As Dorian Thompson-Robinson goes so goes the 2021 UCLA football season. That sounds like a lot for one player to carry on his shoulders. Especially considering the Bruins are returning 20 of 22 starters on both sides of the ball. But for all of the experience they bring into the season, it only works if “DTR” keeps up his progression curve from last season. UCLA and Thompson-Robinson’s season will mirror each other.
You have to start with the clarity that this is Thompson-Robinson’s team right now. The quarterback is always the face of the program. With Thompson-Robinson having three-plus years as a starter, it is his ship to guide on the field. And head coach Chip Kelly made it clear that going into Spring camp, Thompson-Robinson would be QB1. While each of the quarterbacks had their share of good days and bad throughout the Spring, nothing happened to take the starting spot away from the fourth-year senior.
The Numbers Speak For Themselves
Statistically speaking his progress is easy enough to track. Over a three-year period, his completion percentage has climbed from 57% to 67%. His 224 yards throwing per game was 45th in the country. That is not going to light the college football world on fire. But he doesn’t need to. There are enough weapons on offense, especially at running back, that he does not need to throw for 350 yards a game. The biggest stat in his favor is that the touchdown to interception radio has gotten better year over year. His freshman season it was 7:4. In year two, it was 21: 12. Last year, in five games during the COVID season, it was 12:4.
Now comes the more critical step in the maturation process. The decision making. Those watching him in Spring camp wanted to see the Thompson-Robinson that did not scramble in the backfield trying to keep a play alive when nothing was there. Too many times in his tenure, a three-yard loss turned into a seven-yard loss. While the interceptions were certainly fewer, the numbers do not tell the entire story. Time of game, the score, or the position on the field matter just as much. Was a turnover putting the defense in a position to defend a short field?
The New Coach And The Work Study
New quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson was effusive in his praise of Thompson-Robinson as they got used to each other during the Spring. “We’ve had an awesome experience so far,” Gunderson earlier this Spring. “I’m not naïve enough to think it’s just always going to be like that. There’s no real bullets flying yet. Stuff’s going to get real here in the Fall.”
Gunderson said there have been no real fixes needed for Thompson-Robinson on the physical part of the game. “I’m trying to coach the decision making,” Gunderson said. “When we call the right play, against the right coverage, let’s make sure that we’re doing this thing exactly right, putting this team in the best situation possible to move the ball down the field and score points. It’s been good, and it’s gotten better.”
The Film Room
For his part, Thompson-Robinson said last week that the turnovers that have been a part of his storyline for three years, are going be fixed by the mental part of the game that he and Gunderson are working on. “You always want to cut down on the turnovers. And that comes with decision making as well as accuracy and all those different things. That all comes through decision making,” he said.
The biggest part of that decision making improvement has come off the field, and in the film room, according to Thompson-Robinson. “Being up there with Coach Gundy as well as also encouraging the younger guys, the other quarterbacks to get up there too. It’s really elevated my game. When you teach somebody, it helps you understand it a lot more,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Really getting into the film, really getting on the board and writing stuff up, drawing stuff up and working with Coach Gundy has helped.”
Seeing The End Game
Gunderson says he sees this routinely. Players who are closer to the end of their college careers than they are the beginning start to grasp the task at hand with a clearer vision. “Once you get older, you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It becomes more real, “ Gunderson said. “They are a lot more accepting of the hard coaching. He’s there for sure. I’ve been just really happy with the way we’ve worked. He wants a ton of information.”
Thompson-Robinson is fully aware of the calendar with regards to his college career. “This is going on my fourth year. Time is passing by and stuff like that. So you know I figure I have to enjoy it,” he said. “Just take it every day, day-by-day, and making sure I enjoy every part of it and every moment of it.”
If he has made the improvements to the mental part of his game that Gunderson says he has, Thompson-Robinson figures to have more celebrations to come this Fall.
Feature photo courtesy Full Image 360 Photography