When ASU football redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly threw his only interception of the game at the 13:22 mark of the third quarter, it seemed there was no chance the Sun Devils would win.
The Sun Devils were trailing only 21-13 with the entire second half to play, but they had never won a game in which Kelly threw an interception.
Kelly and the Sun Devils reversed that omen against Wisconsin, knocking off the Badgers 32-30 to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Kelly and the passing offense were reverse of their season opener, when Kelly threw for 262 yards and five touchdowns in the first half.
The receivers struggled to find space early and dropped numerous passes, including three by sophomore Rick Smith and Kelly finished just 16-27 for 162 yards and no touchdowns in the first half.
Redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong, who led the Sun Devil receivers with six catches for 104 yards, admitted the first half was a struggle for the passing offense.
“We had some adversity in the beginning of the game,” Strong said. “At halftime, we talked about those things, like the drops. We had way too many drops out there and the game wouldn’t have even been close if we had caught all those passes.”
One of those drops by Smith led directly to a Badgers touchdown, but the Sun Devils cleaned up their receiving woes in the second half, especially after Kelly’s interception.
Kelly finished with 63 passing yards in the third quarter and led the Sun Devils on a touchdown drive at the end of the quarter that brought the home team within 21-19.
That drive also sparked the use of the back-shoulder fade, which became Kelly and Strong’s go-to play in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“We just saw a lot of man coverage that was pressed up back side and we took advantage of that,” Kelly said. “I just had to give Jaelen a chance and keep him inbounds and I know he’s going to make a big play for me.”
Kelly and Strong made the big plays, hooking up on back-shoulder completions of 19 and 24 yards on their first drive of the fourth quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown for the Sun Devils.
“Taylor did a great job of trusting me three straight times and just giving me a chance,” Strong said. “I just went up and made the play. It starts with Taylor, though. Without him I wouldn’t have been able to make the plays.”
The plays continued to happen for Kelly and Strong, who connected on one final back-shoulder fade for 20 yards on the Sun Devils’ final scoring drive of the night, which gave them a 32-24 lead.
The receivers faltered on the Sun Devils’ last drive of the game, including a drop from sure-handed senior tight end Chris Coyle.
The result stood for the receivers and Kelly, who finished 29-51 for 352 yards, one interception and one big win to his name.
Even with the victory, Kelly knows his guys have to play a more complete game.
“We got to get better,” Kelly said. “We have to come to work this week. That’s two under our belt. We’re playing Stanford, they’re a great football team and we got to bring our A-game for them and have a great week of practice.”
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