Last Thursday's showdown with third rank Oregon resembled one of those overhyped pay-per-view boxing matches that often fail to live up to their expectations; it was over before it barely got started. Even with an early forced turnover and ensuing touchdown, the Sun Devils couldn't keep pace with the speedy Ducks as Oregon overwhelmed Arizona State on both sides of the ball.
"We turned the football over," said Kelly after practice on Sunday having watched film of the loss over the weekend. "I forced the football a couple times, which is something I shouldn't do. We had five or six plays that we wish we could have had back that were crucial in the game, but other than that, they're a good football team. We didn't play as well as we should have and that was kind of the problem."
Kelly was constantly under pressure in the loss, completing only 10 of his 18 pass attempts for a season-low 93 yards, as he dropped to eighth nationally in passing efficiency. His lone touchdown pass was undone by two careless interceptions where the sophomore forced the issue, setting the Ducks up for easy scores. Kelly though insists that his confidence is still high and he expects to regain his form, starting this week in practice.
"My confidence is good," he remarked. "I've put that behind me and now we've just got to move on as a football team. It's the only thing we can do. I've been watching film of UCLA and just breaking down their defense.
"I've just got to take every rep in practice this week and be sure to take care of the football. I've got to make sure I go through my reads and progressions and just focus more."
So far this season Head Coach Todd Graham has been a big believer in finding moments for teaching, both in practice and games, while also putting the Sun Devils in adverse situations. Thursday provided plenty of both, and even despite the way the game unraveled, Kelly says he and the team learned a lot from it and look forward to making those corrections.
"Me, personally, I've got to protect the football," he commented. "Offensively, we need to finish drives and put drives together; we can't go three and out every time. We've got to move the ball and do better at putting drives together.
"We've still got our confidence. Offensively, we've just got to come out prepared for this weekend."
Entering the new week, Arizona State's offense currently ranks 23 in the nation in total offense (468.8 ypg) and 24th overall in scoring (37.7 ppg). The Sun Devils are 32nd in passing and 41st in rushing, thanks in large part to the stellar play of not only Kelly, but his supporting cast as well, especially the running backs.
Senior Cameron Marshall along newcomers Marion Grice and D.J. Foster have proven to be dependable weapons for the ASU offense both on the ground and in the air as the trio has become very consistent receiving targets in the team's first seven games.
"Those guys have been huge for us," expressed Kelly. "If my one's or two's aren't there, I can count on Cam or Marion or DJ to get out of the backfield and run routes against their linebackers or the corners. They're really great athletes and really good receivers for us."
Still, the Sun Devils would like to see more of a contribution from the wide receivers as the team gets set for a crucial stretch of games against highly regarded conference competition. The wide receivers overall have shown to be hot and cold through the first half of the season, and once again struggled last week, forcing Kelly to scramble and force throws against tight coverage.
"They just need to win their one on one routes," he said. "Sometimes they're getting banged up in their one on one's or at the line of scrimmage, and that's something that we've been working on in practice. We're getting better at that."
Saturday's homecoming matchup with UCLA will provide the Sun Devil offense with another test, as the stingy Bruins defense has limited their opponents to just 22.6 points per game and feature a number of playmakers.
"They're really talented," said Kelly of UCLA's defense. "They've got a bunch of athletes, especially on their front seven, so we've got to make sure we get protection. And our wide receivers have got to get off their press and win their match-ups."
With hopefully another packed Sun Devil Stadium and the chance to remain atop the division the rankings, Kelly speaks for all of his Sun Devil teammates when he says he can't wait to shake off the recent loss and prove to everyone they're still the team to beat in the South.
"Our team has got great focus and confidence," he said. "The team is really ready for this weekend and can't wait to get the W. We've just got to go out there and work for it."