Protecting his body wasn’t high on the list of priorities as UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson took off running last weekend with his team holding a 32-point lead against Arizona State.
There was still nearly a full quarter to be played and more points to be sought.
“I mean, our goal is to try and score, keep the score going and stuff like that,” Thompson-Robinson said Wednesday, “so that was what my focus was on, was getting a touchdown.”
Coach Chip Kelly would have preferred that his quarterback slid on the grass rather than exposing himself to a hit that resulted in his second knee injury of the season, but everything turned out just fine. UCLA held on for a 42-32 victory after Thompson-Robinson departed the game and he’s expected to start as usual Saturday evening when the Bruins (3-5 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 Conference) face Colorado (3-5, 1-4) at the Rose Bowl.
Thompson-Robinson has practiced all week with a brace over his left knee but doesn’t expect it to be a hindrance against the Buffaloes considering he also wore it against Stanford and ran for a career-high 66 yards.
Having Thompson-Robinson available is a big relief for the Bruins given his improved play over the last month. He’s completed 61.7% of his passes in conference games this season as opposed to 54.0% in nonconference games.
Other factors have also contributed to UCLA’s spike in offensive production since the start of Pac-12 play. The Bruins unveiled a heavier use of the pistol formation against Arizona State and benefited from the return of running backs Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen as well as another workhorse performance from running back Joshua Kelley.
“It definitely opens up our offense a little bit more,” Thompson-Robinson said of the smorgasbord of options, “and you guys will see that coming up this week and in the weeks to follow too.”
The Bruins were about as efficient as they could get to open the game against Arizona State. Their first eight drives went touchdown, fumble, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt and touchdown, resulting in a 42-10 lead.
Thompson-Robinson was responsible for two of the touchdowns, connecting with receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Devin Asiasi on scoring passes, as well as the fumble on a play in which he waited a moment too long in the pocket and got waylaid by a defender before losing the ball.
Thompson-Robinson also fumbled on the play in which he was injured early in the fourth quarter, accounting for his 12th turnover of the season. He has had seven passes intercepted and has lost five fumbles.
“Obviously, looking at the things we need to correct, turnovers is one of them,” Thompson-Robinson said. “You know, I haven’t had a game when I haven’t had any turnovers, so just trying to eliminate those.”
Kelly would also like for his quarterback to avoid injuries as much as possible after having missed parts of the Arizona and Arizona State games as well as all of the Oregon State game.
“One thing we try to preach all the time with our quarterbacks is that your [priorities are] touchdown, first down, get down,” Kelly said, “so maybe he took off a little bit more than he could and we’ll talk to him a little bit about that, but he made the proper read on the play and then you’ve got to protect yourself when you get out into the open field.”
Just drop it
Dropped passes have not been nearly as much of an issue under Kelly as they were under predecessor Jim Mora, but the improvement is not a function of a new approach.
“It’s the same thing that we did and same message that we preached from the first day I got here in terms of there’s no other way to get better at it than by doing it,” said receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, a member of both coaching staffs. “You don’t get better at playing the piano by running around the piano; you actually play the piano. So to get better at catching the football, you’ve got to catch a lot of balls and you’ve got to play a lot of football.”
Dougherty credited the receivers with putting in extra work in the summertime to develop their skills before training camp, as well as dedication to details in practice and concentration in games.
“All those things go into catching the football,” Dougherty said.