Bruin to Watch: Junior QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson
The Trojans got a firsthand look at what DTR can do when he threw for 367 yards and 3 TDs at the Coliseum last year while also running for a team-high 64 yards plus a score. He’s proven that he’s capable of the spectacular, but he’s also prone to mistakes. In UCLA’s season-opening loss to Colorado, the game that ultimately eliminated the Bruins from Pac-12 South contention, Thompson-Robinson passed for 303 yards, ran for 109 yards, but turned the ball over twice. When he plays mistake-free, even if he does not produce as many yards, the Bruins are a tough team to beat.
As with any Chip Kelly offense, the Trojans have to stop the run first. The Bruins don’t play at warp speed like Oregon used to under Kelly, but Thompson-Robinson averages more rush yards per game than any other Pac-12 QB, while Demetric Felton and Britain Brown are the most productive rushing tandem in the conference. The Bruins’ run game ranks second to only Colorado in the league. USC has improved its run defense every game this season, but UCLA will be its toughest test on the ground since ASU in the season opener.
In last year’s Crosstown Showdown, Kedon Slovis and a slew of USC receivers broke every record in the book. The Trojans torched a helpless Bruins secondary to the tune of 515 yards passing. USC had four different receivers go over the 100-yard mark. A year later, UCLA has clearly improved defensively, but the Bruins have only faced one of the top five passing offenses in the conference. And in that game, Oregon threw for 334 yards and 3 TDs. USC continues to have the best passing offense in the Pac-12, so the Trojans should be aggressive through the air until UCLA proves it can do something about it.
Last season, USC and UCLA were the bottom two teams in the conference in turnover margin. The Bruins are still down near the cellar with a -3 on the season, but the Trojans have made a monumental leap to the top at +6. In fact, USC is second in the nation in turnover margin per game. After giving the ball away four times in the season opener, the Trojans have tightened things up, limiting their opponents to two total takeaways over the last three games. Under Todd Orlando, the USC defense has turned into ball hawks, forcing 12 turnovers in four games. By comparison, the 2018 USC defense had 10 takeaways in 12 games. The turnover battle will likely be the differentiator between two talented offenses.