ASU football QB Mike Bercovici, in first career start, puts up rollercoaster performance vs. UCLA

Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici walks onto the field in a home game against UCLA on Sept. 25, 2014. The Sun Devils lost to the Bruins, 62-27. (Photo by Alexis Macklin) Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici walks onto the field in a home game against UCLA on Sept. 25, 2014. The Sun Devils lost to the Bruins, 62-27. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

For a brief moment in the beginning of the second quarter, it genuinely seemed like redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici was about to lead No. 15 ASU football to an improbable upset over No. 11 UCLA.

The backup to injured redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly had just thrown his second touchdown of the gamer — a ridiculous 29-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith down the middle that put ASU up 17-6.

UCLA was in trouble early. Bercovici was the man of the moment.

But as what sports have taught us for decades, all it takes is one bad mistake to trigger an avalanche effect.

Things first turned bad when Bercovici threw an interception to UCLA redshirt senior safety Anthony Jefferson. His timing didn’t really come back, ASU’s offense kept stalling and UCLA found a way to take the lead at 20-17 when the ASU offense took over with 2:13 left in the first half.

Bercovici got ASU to as close as UCLA’s 18-yard line. With under 30 seconds left to go, Bercovici botched a designed keeper play and lost two yard, forcing him to spike the ball to stop time. The following play, he threw a pick-six to UCLA junior cornerback Ishmael Adams that went back for 95 yards.

“Unacceptable on my behalf,” Bercovici said about the drive. “One-hundred percent credit, all me. I got to understand the situation. We got three points there. We got a great field-goal kicker. We can’t put the ball in jeopardy. It’s a learning experience. Never do it again.”

Bercovici’s next blunder came with nine minutes left in the third quarter when he gave up a fumble on the first play of the Sun Devils’ new drive. The Bruins got another touchdown two plays later to put the game ultimately out of reach at 48-20.

“It’s disappointing and I take a lot of credit for turning the ball over,” Bercovici said. “That’s something we don’t do here at school.”

In Bercovici’s defense, it wasn’t easy to lead a comeback out of halftime. The Sun Devil defense gave up another long touchdown almost immediately. Although Bercovici helped set up a field goal, the ASU special teams gave up a 100-yard touchdown on the following kickoff, and ASU couldn’t stop UCLA’s offense from extending the lead while Bercovici tried to figure things out.

In some moments, Bercovici looked like a starter by completing insane, thread-the-needle type passes.

“Man, he made some incredible throws,” said ASU coach Todd Graham.

Like a losing boxer determined to finish a 12-round fight, Bercovici continued to air it out as the clock slowly and painfully winded down. He still accumulated 273 of his 488 passing yards in the second half. Bercovici said he felt obligated to continue to fight in the second half.

“No matter what the score is, if we’re up 20 or down 20, we know that this program breeds championships and winning the second half, and that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of the season," Graham said.

Bercovici’s debut as a starting quarterback wasn’t bad on the stat sheet. He led ASU to 626 yards of total offense in comparison to UCLA’s 580, which seems like an anomaly to the final score of the game.

The UCLA defense brought pressure on several plays. Sometimes, Bercovici looked composed and quickly found open receivers. Other times, Bercovici scrambled and forced his throws, which led to both of his interceptions. Graham pointed out Bercovici could’ve gained a lot of yards if he decided to keep the ball while scrambling out of the pocket.

It was hard for Bercovici to embrace his performance after the game.

“At the end of the day, it’s what the score is, and we weren’t one point ahead or more,” Bercovici said.

He did have one fan, though.

“Mike did some great things tonight,” Graham said. “Obviously there a lot of things he could improve — biggest thing being the turnovers that really hurt us — but I thought he made some great plays and some unbelievable promise for his first game facing that kind of adversity. I’m really proud of him.”

With Bercovici’s first game as a starter in the books, he is still ASU’s quarterback of the present. As Kelly watched the game in crutches, ASU will need to lean on Bercovici for at least another week as the Sun Devils head to L.A. to face USC next week.

This is a time that Graham and his staff still has confidence in Bercovici. They know he could’ve transferred to a different FBS program in the two years he served as Kelly’s backup, but didn’t. This, along with many other reasons, is why Graham continues to give him full support.

“How is Mike Bercovici going to respond? He’s going respond with great character,” Graham said. “Guy is a winner in every way.”

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion

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