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UCLA’s Chase Griffin stays calm and carries on prepping for another potential start

UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin looks to pitch the ball against Oregon on Saturday.
UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin looks to pitch the ball against Oregon. Will he start again for the Bruins on Saturday?
(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)

Chase Griffin’s Saturday morning routine was unchanged last weekend.

“I woke up, got my morning prayers in, got my music going,” the UCLA quarterback said. “Got in the zone.”

Little else about the afternoon, however, was ordinary for the redshirt freshman.

With junior starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson held out because of contact tracing related to COVID-19, Griffin made his first collegiate start in the Bruins’ 38-35 loss to the Oregon Ducks. He might need to start again for this Saturday’s game against the Arizona Wildcats.

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Why were nine UCLA players held out of Saturday’s game against Oregon when two tested positive for coronavirus? It’s a system built on honesty.

In a season full of uncertainties, his role has suddenly transformed. And yet, he’s looked calm and at ease under his newfound spotlight.

“Whenever I get that opportunity out there in the game, I’m gonna seize it,” Griffin said Tuesday, handling a video call with reporters with a confident smile and the same cool composure he flashed in the Bruins’ near-upset of the 11th-ranked Ducks.

“I wasn’t really uptight or over-nervous. ... It was just a lot of fun to go out there. And this week, just as last week was, the mission is always to win.”

Thompson-Robinson’s availability for Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl remains in doubt because of a 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone deemed to have come in close contact with an infected person. Coach Chip Kelly on Monday declined to comment on player availability and Griffin deferred to Kelly when asked on Tuesday whether Thompson-Robinson had returned to practice.

If Thompson-Robinson is unavailable against Arizona, Griffin figures to start in his place for a second straight week (the fact he spoke to reporters Tuesday could be a hint, as UCLA usually only makes that week’s starting quarterback available to the media). If that’s indeed the case, Griffin said he has plenty of confidence to build on after throwing for 195 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Eugene.

“I did feel in command of the offense,” Griffin said. “And not just myself, but all of my teammates out there were fighting so hard in stride. And it really couldn’t have been an easier opportunity for a quarterback to step in for their first time starting in college.”

UCLA’s new attacking defense has ranked as some of the best this season.

Having kept his phone muted leading up to last Saturday, Griffin waited until after the game to sift through the wave of congratulatory messages from friends and former coaches. He also got positive feedback from Thompson-Robinson, who wasn’t ruled out of the game until UCLA had two people in the program test positive for COVID-19 late last week.

“We went into the [Oregon] game with a similar, if not the exact same, game plan earlier that week, before we had news that I would be starting,” Griffin said. “[There wasn’t] too much oversimplification. I practice each week to play regardless of who’s going to start that week, and nothing was different. So the game plan will stay the same.”

Griffin is somewhat familiar with Arizona’s defensive scheme too, citing his experience running UCLA’s scout team in practice last year against a Bruins secondary that was guided by then-defensive backs coach Paul Rhodes, who became the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator this offseason.

“I have a little bit of history playing against those looks,” Griffin said.

Despite being a consensus three-star prospect and Gatorade Texas player of the year in high school, the quarterback wasn’t courted by many Power Five schools as a recruit, receiving mostly Ivy League, Football Championship Series and Group of Five scholarship offers before committing to the Bruins in June 2018.

Yet, he said he doesn’t feel as if there is any chip on his shoulder now, downplaying the idea he needs to prove people wrong in his first true opportunity on the collegiate stage.

“I don’t normally use that whole backstory that some people use, to say that they’re fighting against something in their past,” Griffin said. “No, every single week I’m going to be at my best so I can compete against everyone to be the best. That’s what I’m about.”


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