Dorian Thompson-Robinson wants UCLA to reach much higher

On a greatest hits night for Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the topper might have been a hit by the UCLA quarterback.

As a tipped pass flapped in the air, Thompson-Robinson lowered his helmet into a defender’s stomach to remove the ball from being intercepted.

The veteran quarterback celebrated the separation of the first pass of his career on Friday night by waving his arms horizontally to signal incomplete.

“That was honestly my game of the game,” he said on Monday.

There were many candidates.

Thompson-Robinson turned the Rose Bowl into his own jukebox during the Bruins’ 40-32 win over the then-No. 15 Washington, overcomes one defender and dodges another. The latter defender collided with a Huskies teammate as Thompson-Robinson zoomed past them into the end zone, with the hapless duo falling into a heap like thwarted cartoon villains.

“When I saw the replay, it was like, ‘Ooh,'” said UCLA security guard Stephan Blaylock. “Like, excuse me!”

A highlight show of four touchdowns (three passes, one rushing) earned Thompson-Robinson the kind of recognition reserved for other Pac-12 conference quarterbacks prior to Friday. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen delivered Twitter shoutout. ESPN awarded Thompson-Robinson its “Heisman of the Week.” The Pac-12 voted him Offensive Player of the Week.

What was more important was what the performance meant to his team. UCLA’s eighth straight win since last season propelled the Bruins into the national rankings for the first time in 2022 and set up the biggest game of the Chip Kelly era. The No. 18 Bruins (5-0 agg, 2-0 Pac-12) take on No. 11 Utah (4-1, 2-0) in Saturday afternoon’s Rose Bowl in what could be the next step on the way there conference title.

“Right now we’re 5-0,” said Thompson-Robinson, “but 5-0 doesn’t get you a championship ring.”

These are the games that prompted Thompson-Robinson to return for a fifth season after being part of teams that had three losing records and qualified for a bowl game canceled by a COVID-19 outbreak. The Utes were the last team to defeat the Bruins in late October while Thompson-Robinson was sidelined with a hand injury.

Because the teams did not meet during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Thompson-Robinson last met Utah in November 2019 when the Bruins arrived in Salt Lake City on a three-game winning streak. They went after a 49-3 loss.

“They kicked my butt a couple of times,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so that’s the last memory I have, that’s the last taste I have in my mouth.”

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson jumps over Washington Huskies linebacker Kamren Fabiculanan for extra yards.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson leaps over Washington Huskies linebacker Kamren Fabiculanan (13) for extra yards in the second quarter Friday at the Rose Bowl.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Bruins have not beaten Utah since 2015, losing five straight games in the series. But they’re just 4½-point underdogs against the defending Pac-12 champion on Saturday, thanks in large part to the quarterback who is close to multiple school records.

Thompson-Robinson needs four touchdown passes to break Brett Hundley’s career record (75), 410 rushing yards to beat John Sciarra’s career quarterback rushing record (1,813 yards) and 1,957 passing yards to Cade McNown’s career passing record (10,708) to oust.

He’s on track for his best season, completing a career-high 74.3% of his passes while averaging 242.2 yards per game and a staggering 7.2 yards per carry. He has also thrown for 11 touchdowns with just one interception.

His high hurdles action against the Huskies delighted fans, who recalled him unleashing a similar move to cap an epic win over USC last season. But it worried the manager, who wants his most indispensable player to avoid injury.

“He’s had as many where he was tackled as he was made, so he’s probably hitting .500 on the hurdles,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a feeling, some things you can’t take away from these guys and they were key players for him. But he also needs to know that his best ability is availability and we need to keep him on the field so he needs to be aware of that.”

Maybe it’s just a 20-year-old expressing his love for the game.

“It’s going back to just being a little kid again,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Everyone talks about having fun. Those are the things I enjoy on the field.”

There was some fire to go with the fun. After the game, quarterback Dorian was unfiltered and acknowledged he was fueled by the media’s disrespect for his undefeated team.

He chuckled when he was reminded of his outburst three days later.

“The last game was definitely a bit more emotional than others,” he said.

Could this represent a new version of the quarterback that seems to have been around forever?

“We’ll see,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to find out next week.”

It could be another hit in the greatest hits collection. Dorian Thompson-Robinson wants UCLA to reach much higher

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