Asked about facing UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson this week, Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell laughed a bit.
“You know what I say about veteran starters, right?” he said. “He’s another one of those guys, just like Arizona State’s quarterback, just like Cal’s quarterback, that have had these multi-years and are seasoned in their offense. They’re hard to defend, but that’s a challenge we stand to take. And we know what we have to do to win this game is that we’re going to have to play really quality football in all three phases to do it.”
On Saturday, the Buffs (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) will visit Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins (5-4, 3-3) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (7:10 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network) and they’ll attempt to beat a veteran quarterback for the first time this season.
The Buffs are 3-1 against inexperienced quarterbacks, beating Northern Colorado (Dylan McCaffrey), Arizona (Gunner Cruz) and Oregon State (Chance Nolan), while nearly knocking off Texas A&M (Haynes King and Zach Calzada). That group had a combined three career starts – all by Nolan – before this season.
On the flip side, the Buffs are 0-5 against experienced quarterbacks, losing to Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, Southern California’s Kedon Slovis, California’s Chase Garbers and Oregon’s Anthony Brown. All of them are in their third or fourth season as a starter, with a combined 110 starts before this year.
Thompson-Robinson is not only experienced (32 career starts), but one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
“He’s played well in really critical moments in games when they needed first downs and fourth down conversions, fourth and 12s, things like that,” Dorrell said. “He’s been pretty dynamic and getting those things done.”
This season, Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 1,639 yards and 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 364 yards and six touchdowns.
Although he missed the Bruins’ most recent game, Oct. 30 at Utah, with an injury, Thompson-Robinson is expected to return Saturday and make his fourth career start against the Buffs.
“This is my (fourth) time seeing Dorian, so it’s cool,” CU outside linebacker Carson Wells said. “Throughout the game, we just like chirp at each other a couple of times. It’s just a fun little game. But it’s always fun going up against good competition and he’s a good quarterback.”
Wells has yet to sack Thompson-Robinson but did intercept one of his passes in last year’s matchup in Boulder and he has great respect for the Bruins’ veteran.
“Uses his legs well, moves the pocket,” Wells said. “He’s gonna be tough to contain. We need to be all on the same page in our pass rush to make sure we affect him early on.
“His ability to use his legs is really what separates him. He can still throw the ball as well, but his ability to move the pocket and get out of the pocket, that really separates him.”
It also helps Thompson-Robinson to have two talented running backs.
Zach Charbonnet, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound transfer from Michigan, has rushed for 797 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Brittain Brown, a 6-1, 205 senior, doesn’t get the ball as much, but still has 557 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
“Those are the challenges that we face every week,” Dorrell said of facing the Bruins’ big backs. “The running back at Oregon State (B.J. Baylor) was one of the best ones in our conference and he’s a bigger back as well. (Charbonnet) is going to get some yards, but we have to try to make sure he doesn’t have a big game.”
Whether it’s trying to contain Thompson-Robison or slow down the run, it’s a challenge the Buffs are eager to face.
“This is one of the biggest challenges for a defensive lineman, in my opinion,” CU defensive tackle Jalen Sami said. “This is what makes you significant in your position is this type of personnel, this type of team that we’re going to be facing.
“It’s gonna be difficult to go against, but it’s just a privilege and the challenge that I’m willing to accept.”