As the Sun Devils head into the middle of what Todd Graham refers to it as an “extra week” on his program’s schedule, we have broken down each and every position group on the football team giving a recap of performance with an GIF to match. Assessments will be dealt out to the performance of this team over a nine-part series.
While the final chapter “has not been written” on the 2015 season according to Graham, the offense has struggled mightily through the first seven games of the season, lacking any consistency from week-to-week. And by most accounts, the offense has been the main reason behind at least two of the team’s three losses.
Coming off his success filling in for Taylor Kelly during the 2014 season, the hope was that senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, through his ability to make plays downfield in the passing game, would help take Mike Norvell’s offense to new heights in 2015. Unfortunately, it’s safe to say the results have been disappointing in terms of both production and success for a quarterback whose loyalty to the program and character have helped to win over fans young and old.
The ASU football off-season marketing campaign had the seniors face splashed across anything and everything it was putting up across the valley and the internet. But to this point, all those looking for the offense to take the next step with the pocket passer replacing three year starter Taylor Kelly have been quieted.
Coming into the season one of the big question marks that needed to be answered was how ASU would replace its two senior offensive tackles. Right off the bat, this perceived weakness was exploited by Texas A&M whose pass rush ate up Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee, both making their first starts as Sun Devils.
But it hasn’t been all on the offensive line. There have been a few factors in Bercovici’s inability to take the next step as the Devils starting signal caller where he personally has to take some of the blame. An inability to develop the same chemistry this year with any of the receivers on the roster like that he had with the likes of Jaelen Strong and Cam Smith in 2014 is part of the equation. More about the talent gap at the receiver position later on. However, the lack of throws to exploit soft coverage down the middle of the field to big bodied targets like Gary Chambers have been another striking weakness of this offense. Especially when it comes to converting on third down in passing situations, one of many offensive statistics that have trended downward since this new offensive system was installed in 2012 under offensive coordinator Mike Norvell.
While Bercovici stands in the pocket waiting for his secondary reads more comfortably than Kelly, time and time again, either he can’t find an open receiver breaking out of a route or he forces balls into windows lacking the touch to aid his teammates to move the chains. And then there’s the dropped balls. But we’ll touch on that more when we talk about the wide receivers. Still, credit must go to Bercovici for not losing it publicly at his receivers for dropping balls in key situations especially in the game in Salt Lake City.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, has been Bercovici’s development of running the zone read. Leading up to the UCLA contest, fans had grown upset over the quarterback’s unwillingness to tuck the ball like his predecessor when the opportunity presented itself. After reportedly being pushed to do so by Graham on the sidelines during the game, Bercovici had one of the highlight moments of the first half of the season when he pulled the ball on the zone read and took off on a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter. That run provided confidence to an offense needing every bit of it en route to a 38-23 defeat of the then No. 4 ranked Bruins.
With over a week to plan for the Oregon Ducks, one has to wonder if Mike Norvell will be stressing this facet of the Sun Devils scheme during time on the practice field and during offensive meetings. It could be the missing piece of the equation that propels the Devils from a 7-win bowl team to one that could run the table the rest of the way.