After the team suffered it's fourth straight loss, many ASU fans want to bench quarterback Taylor Kelly, but he's not the problem.
Bench Taylor Kelly! What a bum! It's all his fault. Where's Michael Eubank?!
It used to be amazing how fast a fanbase can turn on a team or a player, but after so many losses in so many seasons, it's become the norm.
After Arizona State suffered their fourth straight loss last Saturday on the road against USC and the offense once again showed a complete inability to sustain a drive in the second half, the reaction from the fabase was inevitable.
Bench Taylor Kelly.
"I mean, come on", those fans are probably saying. "Just look at his numbers!"
OK, they have a point. The statistical breakdown is pretty clear.
|First 6 Games||5-1||112||164||68.3||1,600||14||2|
|Last 4 Games||0-4||76||124||61.3||735||7||7|
Yeah, that's pretty bad. But it's also just part of a larger story, and a tale that should end with Kelly keeping the job that we surprisingly won in camp and even more surprisingly excelled in for the first half of the year.
Making a move at quarterback now would be a mistake. With two games left in the year, the rebuilding Sun Devils are still in a prime position to make a bowl game and post the program's first winning season since 2007, and such a major change now is not the wisest course of action.
Sure, four straight losses is tough for any team and their fans to take, but the knee-jerk reactions have always been far more acute for Sun Devil Nation than most others. Whether it's the coaches or players or administration, an ASU loss is sure to put one or more of those groups in the fanbase's crosshairs.
Now, it's Kelly's turn. But that's wrong for a few reasons.
- Quality of the Opposition: Let's take a look at the AP Poll, shall we? Over the last four games, ASU has lost to the 1st, 15th, 17th and 21th ranked teams in the nation. If that's not a Murderer's Row on the schedule, it's at least a stretch that will leave you battered and bloodied, as it has for the Sun Devils. USC, UCLA and Oregon have some of the nation's most effective pass rushes, and Oregon State's defense is just plain good.
- Playcalling: Over the last few weeks, the playcalling of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has raised more than a few eyebrows. A pass near the end of the half backed up against your goal line? Abandoning what appears to be a very effective running game for no reason? Not using the team's best weapons nearly enough? Such situations would ramp up the difficulty for any quarterback to succeed, let alone one facing such stiff competition.
- Lack of Wide Receivers: Coming into the season, ASU's wide receivers were a major question mark. We now have an answer: They're bad. Throughout the year, the group has struggled with drops, bad routes, mental mistakes and most damning of all recently, the inability to get open. With his receivers routinely covered, Kelly has often had to abandon a play with a scramble or try to force the ball into situations he otherwise may not have thrown.
- Little Protection: Over the losing streak, ASU has surrendered 18 sacks, and the seven suffered against USC mark a season-high. On the season, the Sun Devils rank 111th out of the 124 FBS teams in terms of sacks allowed. That's not good. While some have been the result of Kelly holding onto the ball to long, he's also been under heavy fire over the last few weeks, and has not often had the clean pockets he had during the earlier part of the year. It doesn't matter if you're Joe Montana, Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Barkley, poor protection can derail even the best in the game.
- Natural Growth: Quarterback is clearly the most difficult position to play in team sports for a number of obvious reasons. When you factor in making your debut in one of the top conference's in college football, and especially when you are in the first year of a new offensive system, the learning curve is going to be steep. There are very few Johnny Manziels of the world, quarterbacks who come in and light it up from day one. Most need time to develop. Kelly has shown a ton of potential this year, especially in the you-can't-coach-that intangible area. Jake Plummer didn't exactly set the world on fire early in his career, either.
This is in no way absolving Kelly of any responsibility for what has happened over the last four games. He's definitely regressed. In the face of continued pressure, he's begun to shown some "happy feet", rushed his throws and made the type of bad decisions that he didn't make earlier.
But he's also shown a deft playmaking touch, and the types of intangibles that prove he has the potential to be the Sun Devils' quarterback now and for the new few seasons.
Will he be? It's impossible to say, but for now, he's earned the chance to keep going.