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UCLA football hopes to continue 2020 growth trend in upcoming 2021 season

UCLA football has increased its winning percentage each of the last two seasons but still hasn’t finished above .500 in coach Chip Kelly’s tenure. The Bruins wrapped up spring practice May 27.(Ella Maria Barnes/Daily Bruin)

By Jon Christon

June 6, 2021 7:39 p.m.

In 82 days, the Bruins will be on the field for their 2021 season opener.

Between now and then, one goal will be on their mind – growth.

UCLA football increased its winning percentage from the previous year in each of the last two seasons, and if the trend continues next season, it will likely be above .500 for the first time in coach Chip Kelly’s tenure. The Bruins finished last year just one game away from that mark.

Kelly said the team already showed growth from the 2020 season in spring camp – which wrapped on May 27 – particularly from the concluding game of the season, a 48-47 double-overtime loss to Stanford that pushed Kelly’s squad to 3-4 on the campaign.

“With all of these guys, I think there’s a lot of retention,” Kelly said. “These guys were fantastic in terms of what they brought just from the Stanford game because that was our last opportunity to be on the field with them.”

While rising senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson missed the majority of the game against the Cardinal with an injury and wasn’t on the field when the clock hit zero, that hasn’t stopped him from learning from last year with the rest of the team.

Thompson-Robinson said he’s been deep in the film room all spring with new quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson, who has been detailing his throwing form to cut down turnovers.

In his three years as a starter, the signal-caller has thrown 20 interceptions, including a 12-interception year in 2019.

“You always want to cut down the turnovers, and that comes from decision-making and accuracy,” Thompson-Robinson said. “There’s obviously a ton of things to correct, minimize, maximize in my technique, but really just that all comes through decision-making.”

Beyond his own personal growth on the field, the Las Vegas product also talked about growing as a leader for the younger guys on the team, especially those in the quarterbacks’ room with him.

UCLA has seven quarterbacks currently on the roster, six of which are underclassmen.

“(I’m) really just getting into the film room, being up there with coach (Gunderson), as well as also just encouraging the younger guys to get up there too,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Just working some of the young guys has really elevated my game. When you teach somebody, it helps you understand it a lot more.”

One of the veteran players on the team, graduate student defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight, shared similar sentiments to Thompson-Robinson, saying it’s the responsibility of the veterans on the team to demonstrate opportunities for growth.

Knight, who transferred from Kent State before the 2020 season, helped improve the Bruin defense from one of the worst in the nation in 2019 to near the top of the Pac-12 in a number of statistical categories last season.

UCLA ranked 11th in the conference in total yards allowed per game two years ago but improved to the top half in that same category while also pacing the Pac-12 in interceptions and sacks in 2020.

One way for the defense to continue growing, according to Knight, is for the players to lead each other, and the defensive back said he’s put that responsibility on himself this spring.

“I just want to teach the younger guys everything that they need to know – things that I wasn’t taught as a younger guy from my older teammates,” Knight said. “We really want to make this program a player-led program. … I feel like that’s our job to do that. Once we fully understand that, the sky’s the limit.”

However, this offseason work between teammates and coaches won’t have to stop with the end of spring ball.

Kelly said the coaching staff has been making “cut-ups” of film of each player from spring camp that feature voice-overs from the coaches with specific instructions of what to work on. This means players can review the film at their own leisure throughout the summer before coming back for the start of fall camp in July.

While UCLA will have an uncharacteristically short offseason, Kelly said this continued film work throughout the summer will still benefit the Bruins.

“We’ll be back out here before you know it,” Kelly said. “We start summer program on June 20 and then we’re in camp at the end of July. So it’s going to be right around the corner. … We’re really hoping that we’re going to have great carryover from the spring to when we hit the ground for preseason camp in the summertime.”

After fall camp in July, UCLA’s offseason officially ends with a matchup against Hawai’i to kick off the 2021 campaign, a season that could end the stretch of losing in Westwood.

When asked what he’ll be focusing on when the new season rolls around, the team’s starting quarterback had just one thing on his mind.

“Win baby – (we’re) just trying to win,” Thompson-Robinson said.

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Jon Christon | Sports editor
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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