TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State coach Todd Graham used to resist the reality of what a quarterback meant to a team’s trajectory. He has since succumbed.
“To win a championship you have to have a quarterback,” Graham said. “I used to not say that. You say ‘One person doesn’t matter that much.’ Yes, they do. You have to have a quarterback, period. If you don’t have one, it’s pretty tough to win a championship.”
Graham obviously means a highly capable quarterback, and the Sun Devils have got one in second-year starter Taylor Kelly, who earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors Monday.
Kelly had one of the best performances of his career in No. 22 ASU’s 55-21 win over Washington State on Thursday. The redshirt junior was 22 of 31 passing for 275 yards and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 13 times for 66 yards and two more touchdowns.
Kelly is now tied with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater for fifth nationally in passing touchdowns (23). Ahead of him are Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
That’s some company.
“Taylor has played incredible,” Graham said. “And he has gotten better every single week.”
Kelly ranks 12th nationally in passing yards per game (313.9), seventh in total offense (353.3 yards per game) and fourth in points responsible for per game (21.5). Ahead of him in that last category: Manziel, Carr and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Entering the season, the common narrative said Kelly had to take the next step as a quarterback. It appears he has done so, albeit very quietly. Kelly was left off the list of 16 semifinalists announced Monday for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to college football’s top quarterback.
On the list were three Pac-12 quarterbacks: Mariota, Mannion and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. All are deserving but come with perhaps more flash than Kelly, who has made efficiency his calling card. Graham on Monday praised Kelly’s decision making and offered a comparison.
“Probably one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever gone up against is a guy named Case Keenum,” Graham said. “It was so frustrating as a defensive coordinator to coach against him. That guy is such a great decision maker. Taylor is that kind of decision maker.”
Keenum, now starting in the NFL for the Houston Texans, broke numerous NCAA passing records while at Houston, including most career touchdown passes and career passing yards. But more than his gaudy numbers, Graham was impressed by Keenum’s ability to run the offense in much the same way Kelly is doing for ASU, which ranks sixth nationally in scoring with 46.6 points per game.
“I think (Kelly) has as good a grasp as even maybe some of our coaches have,” Graham said. “He’s like having an offensive coordinator on the field.”
GONZALEZ UP FOR HONORS
The Palm Beach County Sports Commission on Monday announced ASU freshman place kicker Zane Gonzalez as one of 20 semifinalists for this year’s Lou Groza Award, which is given to college football’s top place kicker.
Gonzalez is 17 of 20 on field goal attempts and has made 13 in a row. He is 42 of 43 on point-after attempts. He leads all FBS kickers and ranks second nationally in scoring with 11.6 points per game.
Gonzalez is also tied for second nationally with 2.1 field goals per game.
ASU made Gonzalez a late addition to its 2013 recruiting class, signing him out of Deer Park, Texas, during spring practice. Gonzalez also had an offer from Wisconsin.
ASU’s Thomas Weber won the Groza Award as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Three finalists will be announced on Nov. 25.
— ASU’s Nov. 16 home game against Oregon State will kick off at 7:30 p.m. MT and air on Pac-12 Networks, the conference announced Monday.
— Graham on ASU being ranked in the BCS standings (22nd) for the first time this season: “I don’t worry about any of that. I really don’t spend any time concerning myself with that. I’m only concerned with one ranking and that’s the one at the end of the season. And I really mean that.”