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For Arizona St. QB Mike Bercovici, starting is part of backup’s plan

Backup quarterback Mike Bercovici will get the start for Arizona State against UCLA on Thursday following an injury to start Taylor Kelly in the Sun Devils' 38-24 win over Colorado on Sept. 13.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici still chuckles at the thought.

He was gone. Tempe was a memory. Watch his vapor trail. All that was left to determine after Taylor Kelly won the starting quarterback job in 2012 was where Bercovici would land.

Turned out, it was Tempe. He missed that scheduled departure. Truth be told, he never filed a flight plan.

“My situation was revolving around people outside my inner circle, speaking for me, saying what I should do,” Bercovici said. “I appreciated the support of my inner group, who were thinking what was best for me. In this day and age, when it’s about getting on the field as fast as you can, people do not want to take the time.”

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Bercovici took his time. Fate now has him on the field.

Kelly is out after suffering a foot injury against Colorado on Sept. 13. So the No. 15 Sun Devils have turned to Bercovici. He will start against No. 11 UCLA on Thursday in what seems to be a bit of karma at work.

He was patient and now appears set to get a shot at the hometown teams. Bercovici, who played at Woodland Hills Taft High, faces the Bruins in Tempe and probably will get a day in the Coliseum against USC on Oct. 4.

“Me and my dad have been talking about that,” Bercovici said. “It is only right that my first start is against the Bruins, the team I watched growing up. Then I’m going to have to get quite a few tickets for the USC game.”

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Of course, crowd control is the least of Bercovici’s concerns. The Bruins are the task at hand.

The previous two seasons, this game decided the Pac-12 South. Both were wild affairs. UCLA won, 45-43, in 2012 and Arizona State came to the Rose Bowl for a 38-33 victory last year.

Kelly was a particular thorn for the Bruins. In 2012, he threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns, and gained 55 yards rushing. Last season, he threw for 225 yards and rushed for 99, threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

Having Kelly off the table should be a relief to the Bruins.

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“Nobody is going to scrap their scheme because a certain player is in or out,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. “It’s not any more or less difficult than any other week. There is just less tape on him.”

The Bruins do have some firsthand knowledge. Back when he was an Arizona State assistant, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone recruited Bercovici for the Sun Devils.

“I liked him because he had a strong arm, got the ball out of his hands quick and was smart,” Mazzone said. “That’s what we’re going to see.”

Few ever expected to see any of that with Bercovici wearing an Arizona State uniform.

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He had, after all, bolted before. When he lost a quarterback competition to Nick Isham at Westlake Village Westlake High, Bercovici transferred to Taft. He was ruled ineligible for a year by the Los Angeles City Section because the move was deemed to have been made for athletic reasons.

He sat, and fumed a little.

“That was a pretty interesting situation,” was Bercovici’s only comment on the matter. In the end, he said, “It was the greatest decision I made for my football career.”

Bercovici threw for 3,755 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Taft. He made one visit, to Arizona State.

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“My sister was a Sun Devil, my parents and I love the school,” Bercovici said.

Still, many thought it was arrivederci Tempe after Kelly won the quarterback competition in the summer of 2012. Bercovici had come out of spring practice with a tentative hold on the starting job.

Very tentative, it turned out.

“Basically Taylor did a great job of training that summer,” Bercovici said. “My demise that fall camp was turning the ball over.”

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Bercovici had two passes intercepted the first day of training camp.

“You can’t win handing the ball over,” he said.

Coach Todd Graham said this week, “People don’t realize that when we named Taylor Kelly the quarterback, it was for one week. That’s how close the competition was.”

Kelly widened the gap the last two seasons as Bercovici redshirted in 2012 and threw only four passes last year. Everyone was waiting for his departure. But, he said, “the thought about playing anywhere else left a bitter taste in my mouth.”

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Graham knew he would stay put based on a meeting with Bercovici after Kelly was named the starter.

Said Graham: “He told me, ‘Coach, I’m going to be the starting quarterback at Arizona State University, and my goal is to do it tomorrow. But as soon as it happens, that’s what I’m going to do.’”

It’s going to happen this week, after Bercovici replaced the injured Kelly during the 38-24 victory over Colorado. He was told to warm up during the third quarter.

“I was excited for some mop-up duty so I could get more game experience,” Bercovici said. “Colorado’s stadium is known for its small sidelines. I didn’t see what happened.”

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What happened was Kelly was injured when taken down while scrambling. Kelly, whose hobbies include race car driving, hobbled off the field.

“That guy is tough as nails,” Bercovici said. “He doesn’t step off the field for just anything.”

Bercovici managed the rest of the game, throwing only four passes. He shoulders more responsibility this week for the 3-0 Sun Devils.

“I owe it to Taylor to keep this team in the national championship race,” Bercovici said. “I have to get us a week closer to Taylor’s return.”

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Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes


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