Kelly, Foster Draw Some Comparisons

The descriptors Oregon coaches and players use for Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly may seem eerily familiar.

EUGENE, Ore.- Head coach Chip Kelly says he has "poise and confidence" unlike most young quarterbacks. Safety Brian Jackson believes he's "more comfortable making plays on the run". Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti uses words like "gutsy" and "efficient".

Sounds a lot like Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, doesn't it? It should. And like Oregon's freshman quarterback, he has the success and stats to back it up.

The Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1) lead the South Division of the Pac-12 in large part due to the first-year starting Kelly's play. Through six games, Kelly has more yards, a better QB rating, an almost equal completion percentage and just one fewer touchdown than Mariota.

"It always seems like he's going to the right guy. When you look at tape, if there's a guy who's open, he's finding him," Oregon's Kelly said of the Sun Devils' Kelly.

Oregon hopes to defend against the mobile Kelly by bringing an aggressive pass rush and staying close in coverage, Kelly says. According to Jackson, the key up-front will be containment.

"We've just got to make sure that when they get after him they keep him from coming out," he said. "We're hoping we can get some great coverage to confuse him and help him stay in the box."

Around Kelly is a slew of versatile athletes, including three running backs who've been virtually equal in production thus far this season. Returning starter Cameron Marshall (brother of Oregon running back Byron Marshall) leads the team in carries, while Marlon Grice and true freshman D.J. Foster have been slightly more effective rushers with less touches.

Foster, who was heavily-recruited (the Ducks included), is the team's leading rusher, averaging over six yards per carry. He's used in some cases similarly to Oregon star De'Anthony Thomas, Kelly says.

"Have to account for him as a receiver and as a running back. He's a versatile player," he said.

Statistical analysis proves Kelly to be in the right of it, as Foster and Thomas have almost an almost identical rush-to-reception stat line (Foster 45-20, Thomas 41-20), with only 16 yards separating the two on the year.

Linebacker Michael Clay isn't about to concede Foster even footing with Thomas, however, saying "De'Anthony is kind of in another world", but did call the Sun Devil star "a very good back".

Where Foster, and the other backs for that matter, may be most dangerous is in the passing game, where the trio makes up for about a third of the team's receptions.

In fact, the receiving core may be where the offense's greatest weakness lies, with barely half of the reception coming from wide receivers. Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier and Jamal Miles each average less than three receptions per game, and have four touchdown receptions amongst them.

The team's leading receiver is tight end Chris Coyle, who is undersized at 6-3 230.

Kelly said while watching film he noticed that the Sun Devils, led by first-year offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, seem to use the screen more than Dennis Erickson and company had before.

The Ducks and Sun Devils will face off Thursday at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN. Play-by-play man Rece Davis will be joined by Jesse Palmer and David Pollack in the box, with Samantha Steele on the field.

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