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Dorian Thompson-Robinson: Chip’s Folly or UCLA Football’s Future?

UCLA fans are definitely split on what to do with the quarterback position for the remainder of the season.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, thank you to Bruins Nation for the lively and respectful debate that has occurred since Joe’s article calling for Chip Kelly to bench starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson ran. It’s been great to see everybody’s perspective. I’m sure there is not much either side can say to change the perspective of the other, but sometimes it takes a layperson to put things in perspective.

Although my wife has been “around” football for a long time, she asked me a logical question as we were sitting and watching the UCLA Bruins and Colorado Buffaloes Friday night. As the announcers continuously talked about all the freshmen playing for UCLA, my wife asked me how freshmen play against juniors and seniors in college. She went on to say that I, referring to me, would never have played freshmen on varsity (I coached high school football up until this year). I responded to her more or less along the lines of high school and college football being two different things.

However, her question made sense in that many freshmen that play collegiate football are often at a disadvantage over older, stronger and more experienced players. We know there are many factors that contribute to success at the collegiate level for players (e.g., size, speed, strength, knowledge of system, etc.). As players gain experience in a program, there is definitely an expectation that they will grow in the aforementioned areas.

This brings me to Dorian Thompson-Robinson. As many of you know, I have followed for him the last two years. I followed his senior year at Bishop Gorman for Bruins Nation and watched A LOT of film on him. I saw the good with him and I saw areas of much needed growth since last year was his first full year as a starting quarterback at the varsity level.

We have now watched three full games of Dorian Thompson-Robinson as the starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. He is 6’1” and generously listed at 205 pounds. Thompson-Robinson has completed 58 of 110 passes for 660 yards with 3 TD’s and 2 INTs. He has not lit the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination. His performance against Colorado was the tale of two halves. Thus, prompting the most cries that I have heard so far this year for his benching.

However, just like there is a split with Bruins fans about Thompson-Robinson, there is also a split here in Bruins Nation as to whether he should be benched. I am emphatically in the camp that there is no way at this point in the year that he should play behind Speight or any other current UCLA quarterback unless his play deteriorates to catastrophic levels.

Why would UCLA sit him at this point? Would Kelly sit him to let Speight come in and help UCLA possibly win the one or two games left on their schedule that they might realistically have a chance to win? Would Thompson-Robinson be able to do the same thing if he were left to play? Do those two wins with Speight really advance the cause for UCLA in 2019, since Speight will be gone? Is he really bringing down the morale of players with his play? I have not observed a lack of effort by any of the players or bad morale on the field. I know Friday night that he completed passes to Theo Howard, Caleb Wilson, Martell Irby, Kyle Philips, Michael Ezeike, Joshua Kelley, Kazmeir Allen, Demetric Felton and Bolu Olorunfunmi. Is there a difference for recruits if we have three wins, two wins, one win, or none? I would contend that two or three wins would make little to no difference to a future recruit. Here’s what matters to many recruits: Do I have a chance to compete for a starting job as a freshman? Now, the answer to that question is a driving force in a recruit’s decision about what school they will attend and, based on experience, it is one of the first things high school players want to know.

One of the major complaints, whether right or wrong, about Jim Mora’s tenure at UCLA was his inability to develop talent. We cannot have it both ways. Without a doubt, Chip Kelly is actively developing talent on the practice field and, for better or for worse, in live action on Fridays and Saturdays. Kelly is forced to do this out of necessity this year but also because this is the new NCAA.

Back in the day before the NCAA changed practice rules, collegiate players could grow more outside of gameday because there were more practices, longer practices, more live hitting, etc. That simply is not the case for collegiate football programs any longer.

Many in Bruins Nation consistently and correctly bring up that Thompson-Robinson has not played a lot of football at quarterback. That reason right there and the glimpses that we have seen so far from him are arguments in favor of him continuing to start. The best way for Thompson-Robinson to improve is by seeing defenses at full speed for the rest of the year. He’s not going to improve as quickly sitting behind Speight or any of the other quarterbacks that could not crack Chip’s top three list during camp.

The issues surrounding UCLA Football are way deeper and more complex than benching the starting quarterback, but the quarterback is the only one that gets the headline to be benched.

I am going to share some of the good and the bad from Thompson-Robinson as a grounding point to show that there is good.

The Good

Example #1

This was a good example of Thompson-Robinson quickly going through his progressions to find a receiver for a minimal gain on 1st down. Still, it shows him not focusing on one receiver and, like I said, going through his progressions.

Example #2

When you look at this initial Colorado front, it looks as if they are going to bring pressure, but as you see, they only rush three and drop everybody into coverage. The route that would have possibly been open for a TD was Felton trying to do a crossing route. However, Felton immediately ran into a defender (look closely at the bottom of the screen) and pretty much stopped his route at that point. Thompson-Robinson did well to find the only receiver open and again not force anything.

Example #3

This was a play occurred at the 4:00 minute mark of the second quarter on 3rd and 6. Thompson-Robinson was immediately under pressure and rolled left and made a great throw to pick up 4 yards. This pick-up gave UCLA a chance to go for it on 4th and 2 and convert on their way to a FG.

Example #4

One of the complaints about Thompson-Robinson is that he lacks touch. Well, this wheel route pass to Irby shows that he has touch, he can read immediate pressure, and make the right throw.

Example #5

3rd and 14 in the first quarter, and Colorado blitzed. He makes a beautiful move to spin away from pressure (ball should be in outside hand) and pick up big yards, and not to mention a huge hit that he got up from. However, I would venture to say that hit affected him the rest of the game and his willingness to run.

The OK

This was his TD throw. It was once again the right decision. Ezeike had one-on-one coverage and he laid it out there for Ezeike to catch. I like the throw because it was most likely not going to be intercepted, but if the throw led Ezeike the other way at the same height, it definitely would not have been intercepted and would have been an easier catch.

The Bad

Example #1

It is clear that this pass to Howard was not a good pass, and if completed, would have got UCLA right back into the game as the score on the screen indicates. UCLA needed to answer at that point and did not.

Example #2

We all want to see Thompson-Robinson run more. On Friday, I thought that Colorado did a pretty good job holding contain, but this is one of the plays that Thompson-Robinson has to read the defensive end, pull this, and run.

Example #3

This was one of those throws that makes everybody upset. Nice route, separation, and the ball is thrown behind the receiver. Again, right decision but bad throw.

Example #4

Again, another inaccurate throw that he made that could have resulted in possible points for UCLA. Howard easily gets to this ball if it is laid out in front of him to allow him to run under it.

Future or Folly?

UCLA has a team full of freshmen and I know we have all heard that fact ad nauseam. For full disclosure, I have definitely been the self-named DTR Fan Club President here at Bruins Nation. With that being said, I try my hardest to look at things through the lens of reality.

The reality is that Thompson-Robinson has not played well. He’s played like, dare I say, a freshman! However, he’s not the only freshman that is playing like a freshman. Thompson-Robinson just gets the microscope because he’s the quarterback.

Thompson-Robinson and UCLA went into Boulder, Colorado last Friday and were beating the Buffaloes 16-14 with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter after UCLA kicked a field goal. Colorado then went on a 7-play, 75-yard drive where they didn’t face a single 3rd down until they scored at the goal line. UCLA could not recover on either side of the ball after that.

I do not believe with this season the way it currently is, or even with the season being the way I predicted it to be (6-6), that playing anybody other than Thompson-Robinson or Modster was the choice. Now with Modster having transferred, it makes no sense to play and try to develop anybody at quarterback other than Thompson-Robinson. That is within reason of course.

I believe that it’s incumbent upon this coaching staff to get a full picture of what Thompson-Robinson can do. I am of the opinion that his accuracy can be fixed, and I believe that coaching and reps will address this area of weakness. Size and strength are also areas that will be addressed, as will his progression into the depths of Chip Kelly’s playbook. Chip has publicly voiced his support of Thompson-Robinson in regards to his learning of the offense and it can only continue to grow from here.

Our future is with the young Bruins, through the growing pains, bad throws, dropped passes, missed assignments, and everything else that young players do when there is not a balance of talented upper classmen to lighten the load. Welcome to the current state of affairs at UCLA.

Go Bruins!