All week, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had heard one tribute after another lavished upon his counterpart from Washington. The passing yardage that led the nation. The never having been sacked. The nationally ranked team that was the surprise of the Pac-12.
Thompson-Robinson delivered a rebuttal as only he could.
He zipped passes. He hurdled one defender. He sidestepped two others.
If there was a move to be made Friday night at the Rose Bowl, Thompson-Robinson completed it with the flamboyance of a big brother toying with his kid sibling.
Having returned for a fifth college season to prepare for the NFL, Thompson-Robinson looked fully ready for the next level in perhaps his most impressive performance. It was as if he was hellbent on filling a highlight tape on almost every play in this battle of unbeatens.
Thompson-Robinson threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to power UCLA to a 40-32 victory over No. 15 Washington that represented the most significant triumph of coach Chip Kelly’s five seasons with the Bruins.
A hoarse Thompson-Robinson sounded defiant afterward, conceding he had been driven by articles disparaging his team.
“I’m reading through the articles throughout the whole week, people are saying we’re the worst 4-0 team out there, they’re writing us off,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so I think my boys came in here with a chip on their shoulder. I think I told ya’ll on Monday, see if Washington can run with us, not the other way around. So that’s my answer. That’s my answer.”
The Huskies threatened late when quarterback Michael Penix Jr. shrugged off his earlier struggles to complete a nine-yard touchdown pass to Rome Odunze on fourth down. Penix then completed the two-point conversion to draw his team within striking distance with 3 minutes 59 seconds left.
But Thompson-Robinson would have the final say. On third and one, the Bruins (5-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) needing to get the first down to keep the clock moving, Thompson-Robinson faked a handoff and cut outside for a six-yard run. On another third down, Thompson-Robinson completed a pass to tight end Hudson Habermehl to get his team the yardage it needed.
Most of the game’s celebrating had belonged to Thompson-Robinson in helping UCLA win its first five games in a season for the first time since 2013. The Bruins also moved into a tie with USC atop the Pac-12 standings while handing the Huskies (4-1, 1-1) their first defeat.
Do the Bruins deserve to be ranked for the first time this season?
Said safety Stephan Blaylock, who made one of his team’s two interceptions: “I believe so, but we’ll leave that up to” poll voters.
Said Thompson-Robinson: “We’ll let ya’ll decide that.”
Thompson-Robinson raised both of his arms over his head in triumph after the third-quarter score that gave the Bruins 24 consecutive points. Taking off on a run near the goal line, Thompson-Robinson sidestepped two defenders who fell in a heap on one another in the end zone.
Thompson-Robinson scored untouched on the two-yard run that put UCLA ahead 33-10, celebrating with a high-step into the corner of the end zone. Funny enough, Thompson-Robinson said he made the wrong read on the play and should have handed the ball to running back Zach Charbonnet.
“I’m reading the D-end, he obviously was slower than me,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so I thought I could beat him outside, but I should have given the ball to Zach. But … I’m going outside, I make my read, I see the corner out of the corner of my eye crashing down, so I knew I had free space out there, just timed it up really well, sidestepped and scored.”
Thompson-Robinson made things look easy again on his team’s next drive. He found wide receiver Jake Bobo for a 39-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that made it 40-16, prompting more cheers from the season-high crowd of 41,343.
Showing he was a true dual threat, Thompson-Robinson completed 24 of 33 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns while running for 53 yards and a touchdown. Other significant contributors included Bobo, who caught six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Zach Charbonnet, who ran for 124 yards and a touchdown in 22 carries.
Bobo said Thompson-Robinson also prevented a possible interception on a pass that was swatted into the air.
“One of their interior defensive linemen was about to come down with it and [Thompson-Robinson] just put his helmet right in that dude’s stomach,” Bobo said. “I think that tells you all you need to know about this dude. We feed off of him. We go as far as he goes.”
Penix couldn’t keep up after a strong start in which he guided the Huskies to a touchdown on their opening drive. He threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns but also had two passes intercepted after routinely heaving throws into coverage. He also made a pitch that was fumbled in the end zone, leading to a safety, and was sacked for the first time this season. That honor went to former Washington edge rusher Laiatu Latu, who dragged Penix down for a nine-yard loss after reviving his career with the Bruins following a forced medical retirement in the spring of 2021. Bo Calvert added a second sack of Penix in the fourth quarter.
The fun for UCLA fans had started before kickoff.
The light banks flashed on, then off, momentarily bathing the Rose Bowl in darkness. Students holding flickering blue light sticks illuminated one corner of the old stadium during a pregame light show that was about to reach its crescendo, UCLA players and coaches sprinting onto the field before a roaring crowd.
The Bruins were more than ready for their closeup. They had been waiting years for this moment after struggling for most of Kelly’s time at the school.
UCLA scored the final 16 points of the second quarter to build its halftime lead, Thompson-Robinson nudging his team ahead with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Bobo that gave the Bruins a 16-10 advantage.
Stephan Blaylock, the Bruins’ veteran safety, ended Washington’s next drive when he snagged an interception and returned it 29 yards to the Huskies’ 15-yard line.
On the next play, Thompson-Robinson connected with an open Kam Brown on a 15-yard touchdown to make it 23-10 before the Bruins later added a short field goal.
Thompson-Robinson eventually hurdled a defender, stirring reminders of his leap over a USC cornerback in last season’s rivalry game, but it was probably only his second-best move behind the sidestep on his touchdown run.
This was the sort of win UCLA needed to set up even bigger games, with defending Pac-12 champion Utah next on the schedule, followed by a game at Oregon.
Given their quarterback, the Bruins have to like their chances for more fun.
After the game, Thompson-Robinson retweeted a blurb from USA Today asking, “Have you ever seen a less impressive 4-0 team?”
The Utes and Ducks might want to hope that the disrespect heaped on Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins ended Friday.
“I do read it,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I get notifications just like everybody else does. And if you think words don’t hurt, they do. They do and I always remember even if I don’t say nothing. So we have a lot of things ahead of us. Right now, we’re focused on Utah.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.