Friday, October 23

Un-Connon Opinions: Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be dynamic constant for UCLA football’s future

Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, and passer rating have all improved from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign. Thompson-Robinson rushed for a career-high 66 yards against Stanford on Oct. 17. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

Dorian Thompson-Robinson had one message for fans this offseason – don’t be a fan later.

The sophomore quarterback started a YouTube channel in June with that phrase serving as the title of his flagship series. He also made T-shirts with “DON’T BE A FAN LATER!” written across the front and the major milestones of his football career – past, present and future – plastered on the back.

Thompson-Robinson has gone 2-4 as UCLA football’s starter in 2019 – starting his sophomore campaign with three lackluster performances – and the Bruin faithful have not been fans so far.

The cynics may have had some ground to stand on during Thompson-Robinson’s slow start, but they will regret it if they don’t get back on his bandwagon soon.

Like it or not, Thompson-Robinson is the future of UCLA football.

After his 8-of-26 showing against Cincinnati in the season-opener, fans on Twitter equated him to a high school junior varsity quarterback. Things didn’t get much better for Thompson-Robinson, who averaged just 200 passing yards per game over UCLA’s next two outings versus San Diego State and Oklahoma.

In the Bruins’ three nonconference games, the sophomore had thrown four picks, coughed up three fumbles and rushed for -45 yards on 31 attempts. Fans were done with Thompson-Robinson, calling for him to be benched and diagnosing his inexperience and discomfort in the pocket as incurable.

But then Pac-12 play came around and Thompson-Robinson did his best to silence the critics.

The bounce back started with a historic 500-yard performance against then-No. 19 Washington State on Sept. 21, in which he led UCLA back from down 32 points to claim the win in Pullman, Washington. Thompson-Robinson has accounted for 355 total yards per game over his last three appearances and has looked like an entirely different player in the process.

Thompson-Robinson averaged 15 sack-adjusted rushing yards per game in nonconference play, but that number jumped to 73.3 over his last three outings. He has proven why he was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in his class and why he was offered dozens of Division I scholarships before he even won his high school quarterback battle.

The Las Vegas native has been evading pressure with ease, regularly finding holes and beating defenders around the edge. Whether it was coach Chip Kelly’s play design or Thompson-Robinson’s confidence, he simply wasn’t doing that a year ago.

Across seven starts and 10 total appearances as a true freshman, Thompson-Robinson carried the ball 50 times and took a sack once every 10.2 pass attempts. In 2019, he has already amassed 49 carries and is now getting sacked once every 12.8 pass attempts.

But beyond his boost in production and confidence on the ground, Thompson-Robinson’s arm has improved as well.

The sophomore’s 2019 passer rating is 12.8 points higher than his 2018 mark, and he has thrown almost double the number of touchdowns on two fewer attempts. Just going off the eye test, Thompson-Robinson is clearly no longer afraid to thread the ball into coverage, and he has routinely hit his tight ends and slot receivers on difficult seam routes, putting pressure on opposing defenses early in drives.

His judgment is far from perfect – seeing as his interception rate went from 2.0% in 2018 to 3.6% so far in 2019 – and he still needs to work on reading zone defenses on the sidelines. But with the potential Thompson-Robinson has shown, there’s no reason to think his 61.4 completion percentage since the Cincinnati game is the best he can do.

Whether UCLA’s new athletic director makes a coaching change this offseason or the next – or winds up keeping Kelly around through the duration of Thompson-Robinson’s career – the sophomore is almost a lock to be the lone constant in the Bruins’ offense.

So to all UCLA fans: Thompson-Robinson has shown promise, potential and the intangibles it takes to win. Now is the time to hop back on his bandwagon and show some support for the quarterback who will likely be the center of the Bruins’ offense for the next two-plus seasons.

Because according to his custom-made shirt, Thompson-Robinson is going to win the Heisman Trophy, go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft, be named NFL MVP and win a Super Bowl. With accolades like that, there’s no doubt he would be bursting at the seams with supporters and admirers.

Just don’t be a fan later.

Sports senior staff

Connon is currently a Sports senior staff writer for the football and men's basketball beats. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats from 2018-2019 and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats from 2017-2018. Connon also contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment and co-hosts Daily Bruin Sports' weekly podcast, "Out of Bounds." Connon is a rising fourth-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.

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