PASADENA – In his latest moment of triumph Saturday afternoon, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson skipped off the field and toward the tunnel, the passion dripping from him.
“This is our house,” he screamed, with … well, a few additional R-rated words mixed in.
Can’t blame him, really.
Thompson bet on himself last spring when he resolved to come back to UCLA and finish what he started, rather than turn pro. And just maybe, a team that has been sneaking up on us and a quarterback who reads all of the slights and criticism and uses it to fuel him could be ready to break through, to create some of the buzz that has been missing up to now.
(And before we go any further, Dorian, you’re welcome.)
UCLA is now 6-0. More to the point, they’ve knocked off Washington and Utah in successive weeks to quiet some of the criticism over their soft early-season schedule or the lack of excitement that seemed to surround the program.
Maybe that will change. Saturday’s 42-32 triumph over the defending conference champs, a margin made as close as it was only by a Utah interception return for a score with 31 seconds left, suggests maybe we should start paying closer attention to the Bruins, especially with an appointment in Eugene in two weeks, when Chip Kelly’s current team plays his former one.
Helping get the program to that next level, Thompson-Robinson said, was why he came back rather than because of his national profile or his NFL draft stock. Then again, he’s done a lot to bolster both over this season’s first six games.
A legacy among UCLA quarterbacks? That would be nice. He surpassed Brett Hundley as the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes by firing his 73rd, 74th, 75th and 76th Saturday. The record-breaker was a strike down the sideline to Logan Loya early in the fourth quarter for a 70-yard score, a play the Bruins added at halftime after not having worked on it all week.
But it’s predominantly about his guys, and about the previous four years and everything that they’ve gone through.
And if he soaks in every bit of criticism as motivation … well, that’s how the great ones, and those who aspire to be great, operate.
“Everybody has their own personal motivations,” he said. “I see how hard these boys work. I’ve been with these boys for five years now, so I know what this program has been through. I’m just thankful to be here. But yeah, I read all of it. And if hurts when other people don’t give our boys credit. I’m going to do everything to give these boys the credit they deserve.
“I came back for this team. And I’m just playing for the other ten guys on the field, and we’re playing as one. We’re playing as a unit. We’re not playing as a bunch of individuals out there on the field, and it makes my job a lot easier.
“If it wasn’t so hot outside I barely would have sweated, with how well we work together out on that field,” he added. “So, you know, if I were to say I came back to bet on myself, I’d probably be somewhere not right here. That’s why this is a team sport. That’s why I came back.”
There’s substance here.
“It takes a lot for a quarterback,” Kelly said. “You know, there’s way more than just films and meetings and all those other things. There’s so much work you have to do on your own. And he’s invested a ton of himself and he’s reaping the rewards of that investment.
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“But I’m really happy for him to see how he’s known as a person and how he’s grown as a leader. It’s cool to watch and it’s well-deserved. You know, when you start to think about the quarterbacks and the history at UCLA, that’s a pretty cool list to be on. … I think some of us have selective memory when it comes to Dorian but I don’t. I appreciate every day he plays here and every day I get a chance to coach him.”
Those slights, and the way he responds, are a big part of the package. Thompson-Robinson heard and read all of the stuff about how the Bruins might have been the worst 4-0 team in America – an understandable shot at an early schedule that included two Group of Five teams, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent and woeful Colorado – or how the citizenry basically was ignoring them. (The latter may still be a work in progress, although Saturday’s crowd of 42,038 was their best home crowd of the year and sounded engaged to the end.)
And he was also spurred by Utah’s three previous decisive victories over the Bruins, including a 49-3 beatdown at Salt Lake City in 2019.
“I think all great athletes have some type of chip, no pun intended, on their shoulder,” Kelly said with what seemed like a bit of a smirk, but noted – again – that said motivation doesn’t just appear on Saturdays.
“That’s not a switch you flip when you walk into the game, because as I said earlier, pretenders get exposed when they step across the line,” he added. “If you didn’t work the way we work this week, the results wouldn’t have been the same. You just can’t wake up Saturday morning (ticked) off because you gotta put your work in … It’s about putting the time and the effort in. And if it’s any type of motivation, I don’t care what it is.
“And I’m not going to — I don’t have to get into the clinical psychology of what is that. Is it a slight that no one else knows? If you think it’s a slight, and that’s going to motivate you, that’s a great thing. I’ll call him a name walking out of here, if that’s gonna get him to play better next week.”
I don’t think that’ll be necessary. If it’s there, he’ll find it.