TEMPE, Ariz. — Through seven games of his junior season, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly has attempted nearly 100 more passes than he did as a sophomore. The added workload has boosted Kelly’s numbers in some areas but challenged him in others.
Just over halfway through his second season as ASU’s starter, Kelly feels he’s taken big steps as a quarterback but admits he still has work to do.
“I feel a lot further along than I did last year,” Kelly said. “I feel a lot more comfortable in the passing game and the offense.”
ASU coach Todd Graham, too, believes his quarterback has progressed nicely amid the Sun Devils’ 5-2 start.
“I don’t think Taylor gets enough credit for the things he’s done,” Graham said this week.
That may be true. In a conference of quarterbacks, Kelly seems to have gotten a little lost behind the likes of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. A closer look reveals he stacks up pretty well thus far.
Kelly’s ranks seventh in the nation with 355.0 yards per game of total offense, with Mariota, Mannion and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel among the six passers ahead of him. Kelly’s 2,236 passing yards rank fourth in the Pac-12 but eighth in the nation, and his 18 passing touchdowns have him in a tie for sixth nationally in that category.
“I feel a lot more comfortable in the pocket,” Kelly said. “The O-line’s doing a great job protecting me, and the same with the running backs.”
A big part of Kelly’s increased workload has been the addition of star receiver Jaelen Strong. A reliable big-play target has made ASU’s passing game all the more effective.
Here’s a look at how Kelly’s numbers stack up through seven games this season and last:
Notice Kelly’s completion percentage and passer rating are down and his interceptions are up. This is perhaps a byproduct of more passing in general, and ASU has played tougher teams in the first half than it did in 2012, but Kelly says he could be more efficient.
“I feel it can be better,” Kelly said. “I’ve got to be a lot more accurate. I’ve got to keep my focus a little more with the interceptions I’ve had this year. I’ve got to throw the ball away or give it to the easy one — just don’t force things when things are starting to fly in my face, and take better care of the football.”
Whether or not Kelly has taken the proverbial next step might still be a matter of debate, but either way, he has the Sun Devils about where they were expected to be this far in. And with ASU in good position to win the South, Kelly’s growing confidence and comfort under center are meaningful, whether they are noticed or not.
“It feels great being back there,” Kelly said. “I can’t wait to get back out there against Washington State.”