When Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly suffered a right-foot injury against Colorado last September, backup Mike Bercovici stepped in and preserved a 38-24 win. Kelly missed the next three games with the injury – during which Bercovici was exceptional – but returned to the field in late October to lead the Sun Devils to a 24-10 win at Washington.
Arizona State went 5-2 down the stretch with Taylor under center, including a 36-31 Hyundai Bowl win over Duke. And yet, some felt that Bercovici should have remained the starter.
What’s the philosophy on that? Should guys not lose their job due to injury, or is every day a competition?
“It’s hard,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Obviously we’re about competition, but the quarterback is a different position. It is the most important position. A lot of people say, ‘Well, there’s no one position more important than another.’ Well, that’s crazy. That position is the most important hands down, and there’s so many intangibles. It’s not just about your arm strength or your athleticism and all those things. I’m a defensive-minded guy and you look at defensive-minded coaches, they change off coordinator all the time and they change quarterbacks all the time – and you can’t do that consistently and win.
“So it was tough for us last year,” Graham continued. “From a competitive standpoint, Mike had done so well when he was in there, but we had geared everything to Taylor’s skills and talents, and unfortunately he had a broken foot and never really returned to the level he had played at before. So whether that was the right decision or not, we made it because of the intangibles, not just because of the physical abilities. I think quarterback – that’s the most important thing is heart and desire at quarterback. It’s how well you take your team and lead your team down the field and score. Mike’s got the respect of our team. I think the intangibles are really strong on his part. I don’t believe in blind loyalty. You can’t do that. You have to put the best person on the field to win. We weren’t just being loyal to a quarterback. We were trying to put the best guy on the field to give us a chance to win.
“Did I make the right decision? I don’t know. My wife doesn’t think so. So a lot of people might disagree with that. But you always just do the best you can with those decisions, but I can tell you this: I’ve never gone into a season having more confidence in a quarterback than I have in Mike this year.”
Wait, did we hear that correctly? Graham’s wife didn’t agree with his quarterback choice?
“The problem is that I watch the film with her after every game – we been together about 20 years – and I shouldn’t have done that,” said Graham, whose Sun Devils are ranked 15th in the AP preseason poll. “She likes to give her opinion. She was a Mike Bercovici fan.”