LOS ANGELES -- The first time I saw Arizona State starting quarterback Mike Bercovici in person, he was participating in a spring Nike training and evaluation camp at USC before his senior season at Woodland Hills (California) Taft.
At the time, Bercovici easily stood out as one of the best -- if not the best -- prep signal-callers in the camp. He was accurate, showcased a strong arm, and on that day had the pinpoint accuracy of Aaron Rodgers.
The last time the USC Trojans saw Bercovici as a college player was last season at the Coliseum when the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was having a spectacular evening, passing for 510 yards and five touchdowns -- one of which was a 46-yard Hail Mary as the clock ran out to give ASU -- the upset win over the Trojans, 38-34.
The five touchdown passes against the Trojans were the most ever thrown by a USC opponent, and Bercovici also established a new Trojans opponent’s record for combined running and passing yardage (505).
Needless to say, the Trojans and coach Steve Sarkisian are well aware of Mr. Bercovici, who has passed for 799 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with no interceptions this year.
“Mike is a really good passer,” Sarkisian said this week. “He can stand in the pocket, and he’s very accurate. They’ve got good schemes for him, they protect him well, and he can let it rip and he’s sneaky athletic.”
Sarkisian knows that while the emphasis is stopping Bercovici’s passing acumen, there is the fear -- just like against Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan--- that No. 2 will pick his spots to run the ball up field.
“They do some things in the run game, as well,” Sark said. “He’s a quality player in our conference. Unfortunately for Mike, he had to sit behind Taylor Kelly, a heckuva player for them. Now is his time and he’s doing a good job running their offense.”
And don’t think for a moment that playing the Trojans doesn’t continue to have a special place in Bercovici’s competitive heart.
“I don’t think there is any more oomph to the SC rivalry than when you sign up to be a Sun Devil,” smiled Bercovici at this week’s press conference. “I think for anybody, especially Southern California kids, that commits to ASU you know that game is automatically circled on your schedule.”
No doubt Bercovici has repeatedly gone over the game film of Stanford’s dominating, physical offensive performance against the Trojans, but he knows the Trojans still have the type of future NFL players on defense that command respect.
“It’s as simple as this, I grew up watching USC football and they’ve got athletes out there,” Bercovici said. “They’ve got some good safeties, some good corners, an outstanding outside linebacker (Su’a Cravens), and they have a solid defense.”
So what will it take to defeat the Trojans on Saturday night from a Sun Devils perspective?
“It’s something as long as we study and prepare and focus on ourselves and do what we got to do, we feel we can run our offense and that’s what’s going to be fun,” Bercovici said with measured confidence.
If the recent past is any indication, the hosts from Tempe will be more than ready for the Trojans. ASU currently has a two-game winning streak over the Men of Troy and has won three of the past four games over their visitors from Los Angeles.
The current success of ASU over the Trojans, however, doesn’t detract from Bercovici’s excitement heading into Saturday night.
“We’ve done well against the Trojans in the past, but that doesn’t matter because this is a completely different year,” said Bercovici, whose 2013 Sun Devils trashed the Trojans 62-41 in Sun Devils Stadium and cost former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin his job afterward.
“We’re in conference play against arguably one of the best teams in the country and we’re excited about that. We’re going to be self-motivated, not motivated by beating them. We’ll be motivated by doing what we got to do for this team to win this football game on Saturday night.”