PASADENA, CA. — For UCLA head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, it felt like a night five years in the making. Or as Thompson-Robinson noted postgame, it was a performance to, at the very least, quiet the noise he’d been hearing the past week.
“I’m reading through all the articles all week, people are saying we’re the worst 4-0 team,” Thompson-Robinson said. “They’re writing us off, so I think my boys came in here with a chip on their shoulder. I think I told y’all on Monday, see if Washington can run with us, not the other way around.”
The statement turned out to be prophetic. By the end of the night, Kelly and Thompson-Robinson jogged into the Rose Bowl tunnel victorious following a 40-32 win over the No. 15 Huskies, who looked outmatched on both sides of the ball.
“I just thought he was clutch. I thought he played outstanding,” Kelly said. “We’re going to put the ball in his hands with the game on the line. … That’s the confidence we have in him.”
Kelly and former four-star recruit Thompson-Robinson arrived in Westwood at the same time, an army backpack full of expectations on their shoulders, and have largely underperformed since. Yet neither Kelly — nor UCLA’s administration for that matter — nor Thompson-Robinson have wanted to end the partnership.
After five seasons though, Thompson-Robinson is still taking snaps in Kelly’s offense, and on Friday night against an undefeated Washington team that was touting a Heisman-level quarterback coming into the game, the partnership paid dividends in a way that Thompson-Robinson found especially fulfilling.
“I wanted them to run off the field,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I wanted all those Washington Huskies over there to run off that field at the end of the game. So I don’t want them playing no more. That’s how I play.”
Despite his hoarse voice from yelling on the sideline, Thompson-Robinson relished the moment after being expected to either go to the NFL or transfer following last season. Instead, he stuck around for one more year and turned in one of the best games of his career yet, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns, adding 53 yards on the ground and a fourth touchdown with his legs.
“If you’re gonna be the best, you gotta play the best,” Thompson-Robinson said. “And y’all say Washington is up there, so of course I’m gonna give it my full go.”
In the first half, Thompson-Robinson wasn’t just making the conventional throws and carries that a dual-threat quarterback like him can do when things are rolling. The super senior also prevented a tipped ball interception by simply barreling a defensive lineman on his own, causing him to drop the ball and keep the Bruins drive alive.
“I think that tells you all you need to know about this dude,” wide receiver Jake Bobo, who transferred to UCLA from Duke said. “We feed off of him. We go as far as he goes.”
A few plays after, Thompson-Robinson broke into the open field and, without hesitation, hurdled a defender. His leap was so high he didn’t even get close to touching the defender’s helmet.
On a night where he and UCLA had the college football stage to their own, Thompson-Robinson turned the Rose Bowl into his own personal track meet. In the second half, his 2-yard touchdown run was punctuated with another pirouette — this time a stutter-step juke that allowed him to walk into the end zone and leave two Washington defenders clashing into each other helplessly.
Even after Washington fought back to make it an eight-point game late in the fourth quarter, it was Thompson-Robinson who called his own number and got the Bruins a key third-down conversion with his own legs before sealing the upset with another third-down conversion — this time with his arm. It was a fitting end.
After beating four inferior opponents in the first four weeks of the season, the Bruins’ pedigree was unknown. But after taking down Washington in such a fashion, Kelly’s squad will start to creep into the national spotlight. Not only will the Bruins be ranked come Sunday, but they’ll face Oregon and Utah on back-to-back weeks next, giving them a chance to prove to the rest of the country that this performance from Thompson-Robinson and Co. was not an aberration.
“I don’t stay on social media 24/7 all day every day like maybe most people think, but I do read it,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I do read it. I get notifications just like everybody else does. And if you think you know words don’t hurt they do. They do. And I always remember even if I don’t say nothing. So we got a lot of things ahead of us.”