With Dorian Thompson-Robinson back, UCLA makes a run for success
He had spent two weeks in the confinement of an isolation room, returning to practice only midweek for what had become the biggest game of the season.
So on his first play Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, Dorian Thompson-Robinson did what he had been barred from doing for way too long.
He took off running.
There were a few regrettable moments, Thompson-Robinson twice running himself into sacks and throwing up a jump ball that would have been intercepted had the pass not been snatched away by Bruins receiver Delon Hurt. But the good easily outweighed the bad during Thompson-Robinson’s first appearance since UCLA’s home opener last month.
Finally given a chance to be the primary running back, Felton is averaging nearly 135 yards a game, including a career-best 206 last week against Arizona.
The junior compiled one of his most efficient performances, completing 18 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown while also running for 49 yards in 15 carries, including a 27-yard sprint in which he hurdled a defender. Thompson-Robinson also made the plays the Bruins (3-2) needed on the drive that gave them the go-ahead score and a winning record for the first time in three seasons under coach Chip Kelly.
“It feels amazing,” Thompson-Robinson said after his return from quarantine resulting from COVID-19 contact tracing protocols. “I think the whole UCLA community has been waiting for this and like I said, and coach Kelly said it all along, we’re headed in the right direction.”
It wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked like it was going to be in the first half.
After helping his team build a 17-0 lead, touchdowns coming on a nine-yard pass to Hurt and an 11-yard run in which his foot clipped the end zone pylon, Thompson-Robinson fell into a prolonged second-half funk that allowed the Sun Devils to retake the lead. He couldn’t sustain drives and cost UCLA two points when he threw the ball away while under heavy pressure in the end zone, getting called for intentional grounding and a safety.
“Just trying to press,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We’re just trying to finish them right away. Instead of going through what we’ve been taught, kind of getting out of our technique here and there at some positions, and it hurt us obviously.”
All would be forgiven if Thompson-Robinson could direct one more scoring drive. The Bruins got the ball back at their own 25-yard line with 4:26 left, needing to at least get into field-goal range after Arizona State had taken an 18-17 lead.
The drive started with a five-yard pass to Hurt, whose four catches in the game easily eclipsed the one he had made in his entire career before Saturday. Thompson-Robinson then ran for a first down and passed for two others on completions to tight end Greg Dulcich.
Running back Demetric Felton Jr., whose usage was limited because of a nagging injury, ran 13 yards for another first down and the Bruins gained additional yardage on a facemask penalty, putting the ball at the six-yard line.
UCLA moved closer to the goal line when a pass interference penalty for pushing wide receiver Chase Cota out of the back of the end zone gave the Bruins the ball at the two.
Felton ran for a touchdown on the next play with 69 seconds left and the Bruins held on after safety Quentin Lake broke up a desperation pass in the end zone.
After UCLA gives up 18 unanswered points to lose the lead, the Bruins’ offense wakes up to score on their final drive and deliver a 25-18 win over Arizona State.
Thompson-Robinson lingered on the field afterward, engaging Arizona State counterpart Jayden Daniels in conversation before warmly embracing him. There was more empathy during a postgame Zoom media session when Thompson-Robinson, unprompted, passed along condolences to a reporter who had lost his mother earlier in the week.
And then it really was time to run, a plane to catch and a rivalry game to prepare for against USC. The Bruins were in a better spot now that their top quarterback was back.
“Dorian, not only can he beat you throwing the ball,” Kelly said, “but I thought he was really, really big for us in the run game.”
The Bruins have forced five turnovers in the last two games while committing none.… UCLA’s game against USC on Saturday at the Rose Bowl starts at 4:30 p.m. PST and will be televised by Channel 7.
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