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2020 UCLA Football Season Preview: The Bruins Have a Starting Quarterback and Not Much Else
UCLA's depth chart at quarterback is bleak heading into 2020.
The Bruins will go as Dorian Thompson-Robinson goes, as he looks to build upon a good yet inconsistent sophomore outing in 2020.(Photo credit: Greg Turk/uclabruins.com)
We’re wrapping up our season preview with a look at the most important individual position on the football field: quarterback. Yes, line wins games, but you need a quarterback to be able to take advantage of that line, and competent quarterback play can be the difference between victory and defeat.
So let’s take a look at how things are shaping up for UCLA.
The big departure from last year is Austin Burton, UCLA’s backup quarterback who saw sporadic play and even started a game last year while Dorian Thompson-Robinson was out due to injury. Perhaps recognizing that was his ceiling with the Bruins, Burton chose to transfer to Purdue this offseason. He has not seen game action, and a quick read of the Purdue QB situation would lead me to believe he’s #3 on the depth chart, but his ability as a dual-threat contrasts with the two quarterbacks ahead of him, so it’s possible he’ll see the field with the Boilermakers this year. For UCLA, the loss of Burton is bigger than one would care to admit. Burton was solid but unspectacular with the Bruins, providing steady play but never rising to a level that would make one believe he could supplant DTR for the starting job. Having a solid backup quarterback is a huge deal for most teams, but especially so at UCLA, which has a quarterback with prior injury history.
The other name to mention here is not a true departure, but rather a position shift. Still, I need to mention here that Colson Yankoff, who transferred from Washington and had to sit out a year, switched to wide receiver this fall at his own request. Yankoff was essentially pencilled in as QB2 on the depth chart and was thought to be able to provide some competition to DTR, but his position change may give an indication of how he personally views his future at the QB position at UCLA.
Alright, time for the part I know you’re all waiting for.
We’re now in Year 3 of the DTR Experience here at UCLA, and to be honest I don’t know how to feel. Thompson-Robinson was the starter when healthy last year and he threw for 2,701 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 198 sack-adjusted yards and four more touchdowns. He continued to be incredibly inconsistent, having good games (such as against Washington State, Stanford, and Southern Cal) and bad games (Cincinnati, Utah, Arizona) in equal measure, and averaged out across the entire season, it was an average year compared to most quarterbacks in the country. That said, I don’t know how much you can truly blame on him — his high turnover numbers are definitely bad, but UCLA also allowed a sack on almost 8% of all non-garbage time pass attempts, which was one of the worst marks in the country last year and not a situation you want to put a developing quarterback in.
I went back and looked at my old Eye Test articles ( I promise will now be here this season) from last year to better get a feel for my thoughts on Thompson-Robinson, and I kept running into a central theme of DTR making plays and showing effort and improvement in spite of everything falling apart around him. There’s a lot in those articles to give me some confidence that he can make improvements into being a solid quarterback this year, and possibly a great one in 2021. There are still factors outside of his control (offensive line play, play-calling), but I think there was enough on the tape to feel good about DTR going forward.
Beyond DTR, the only two returning quarterbacks on the depth chart are Chase Griffin and walk-on Chase Artopoeus. Neither have seen game action and we’re going to have a larger conversation about them down in the projected depth chart section. So, I’ll leave this for now and move on.
The Bruins did bring in a quarterback in this year’s recruiting class, and as far as QBs go, Parker McQuarrie is a solid prospect who the coaching staff is counting on to be their future starter. There’s a lot to like from his frame to his sneaky athleticism, but he doesn’t have the best arm in the world and, all things being equal, the Bruins would love to be able to redshirt him this year (or, at least not play him since everyone gets a free year).
Projected Depth Chart
I will be honest: this depth chart is terrifying.
First off, there isn’t anything close to a proven option behind Thompson-Robinson. This is where losing Burton obviously hurts, but it is compounded by the position switch of Yankoff. Had either of those two events not happened, I’d feel a bit more confident.
You might also notice that Atropoeus, a walk-on, is listed ahead of Griffin. That’s not a typo — Atropoeus was consistently taking third-string reps in the spring while Griffin was relegated to the fourth string, and that hasn’t appeared to change much this fall. There were concerns that Griffin, who was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Texas when he came to UCLA, would not be able to play at this level, and those concerns have been found to largely be true. At this point, it’s hard to see Griffin as anything other than an egregious miss from a coaching staff that felt they were smarter than everyone.
Parker McQuarrie is fourth string mostly by virtue of just arriving on campus. In an ideal setting, UCLA would love to not play him at all this year and retain his eligibility while he gets acclimated to the college game, but if DTR goes down for any long period of time, McQuarrie could theoretically jump up the depth chart depending on the scenario. This also applies to Yankoff, in a way. One has to imagine that the coaching staff agreed to Yankoff’s position change in part because they felt comfortable he could be moved back to the QB spot with a week’s worth of prep should DTR be unavailable due to injury.
But that’s where we are in year three of the Chip Kelly era: with one good option, one newly-arrived project, and a whole lot of question marks.