Thompson-Robinson big key to UCLA's second-half turnaround

Thompson-Robinson big key to UCLA's second-half turnaround
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, left, runs while pursued by Colorado linebacker Nate Landman during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — No one typifies the peaks and valleys of UCLA’s season better than Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

The sophomore quarterback struggled with consistency and turnovers as the Bruins got off to a 1-5 start, but he has played his best during their three-game winning streak. UCLA (4-5, 4-2 Pac-12) goes into Saturday’s game at eighth-ranked Utah (8-1, 5-1) still alive in the South Division title race and in position to possibly get bowl eligible if it can win two of its final three.

“Every game we play he continues to get better. It’s really fun seeing him continue to grow,” coach Chip Kelly said.

Thompson-Robinson has completed 77.3% of his passes over the past three games with six touchdowns against only two interceptions along with rushing for 119 yards. That’s quite a change from his first five games when he completed just 56.3% with 11 TDs to six picks and 75 rushing yards.

Kelly said Thompson-Robinson has always had poise in the huddle. Now he and the coach have a better understanding of each other.

“Now Coach Kelly knows what type of playmakers he has and is putting us in the best position,” Thompson-Robinson said. “It has definitely simplified the game for us and allowed us to play quicker. Everyone is doing a good job at a high level and executing.”

Another factor is that Thompson-Robinson has had command of an offense for more than one season.

He was a four-star recruit and one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, but he had only one year as the starter after being Tate Martel’s backup. Martel was one of the country’s top prospects who went to Ohio State before transferring to Miami.

Many recruiting services noted when Thompson-Robinson picked UCLA that it would be good for him to sit and learn. But due to a lack of depth in Kelly’s first season, Thompson-Robinson ended up playing in his first collegiate game due to an injury, and he started the second.

“His growth is also a byproduct of at-bats,” Kelly said. “He had only 330 attempts because he was only a starting QB as a senior. Other guys like (Clemson’s) Trevor Lawrence had 1,200.”

Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins face a huge test against the Utes, who have the top-ranked defense in the Pac-12. He did not play in last year’s game against Utah, which the Bruins lost 41-10.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham described Thompson-Robinson as an extremely athletic player who can extend plays.

“If you let him out of the pocket, he is very dangerous,” he said.

Thompson-Robinson said the Utes have a formidable defense but that there might be opportunities to make plays.

“They’re tough and physical,” he said. “They have a lot of good defensive backs and play a lot of man. With man coverage it leaves a lot of opportunities for single coverage and leaves room for the quarterback to run.”

OFFICIATING ERROR

The conference has acknowledged there was an “error of mechanics” during the Washington State-California game. An illegal hands to the face penalty was supposed to be called on a Cal player, but instead it was marched off against Washington State.

The conference announced referee Matt Richards had been suspended for a game while the rest of the crew was downgraded.

IN LIMBO

Due to division races, the kickoff times for four games on Nov. 23 will not be finalized until late Saturday or early Sunday.

The four games remaining to be announced are Utah at Arizona, Oregon at Arizona State, Washington at Colorado and UCLA at USC.

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