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2023 UCLA Football Position Preview: Quarterbacks

Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers prepares to throw the ball during a practice drill. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

By Gavin Carlson

Aug. 25, 2023 12:42 p.m.

This post was updated Aug. 27 at 9:11 p.m.

With the first snap of UCLA football’s 2023 season rapidly approaching, Daily Bruin Sports will be previewing each of the Bruins’ position groups before game day. Sports staff writer Gavin Carlson concludes the series by breaking down the quarterback room.

Personnel

Dorian Thompson-Robinson will not be UCLA football’s starting quarterback for the first time in five seasons.

The Bruins’ all-time leader in just about every quarterbacking statistic saved his best season for last in 2022. After achieving career-highs of 3,169 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 645 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, he leaves big shoes to fill.

And as the final week of the preseason ends, it’s still unclear which quarterback on the roster will have the first opportunity to fill those shoes.

Freshman Dante Moore is the biggest name in the group, and he’s probably the most talented.

The consensus five-star and top-five recruit in the country – according to ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals – put up impressive numbers during his time at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in Detroit.

Moore threw 135 touchdowns against just 20 interceptions during his four-year career as the varsity team’s starting quarterback, and he had at least a 10-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio in each of his final three seasons of high school.

The 6-foot-3 gunslinger led his team to back-to-back Michigan Division 3 state championships in 2021 and 2022 and was named Michigan’s 2023 Gatorade Player of the Year. He even earned MVP of the All-America Bowl in January after throwing four touchdown passes in limited game-action.

It’s no surprise why Moore – one of thehighest-rated recruits in UCLA history – is expected to be the program’s starting quarterback for multiple seasons.

But there’s a chance he won’t start in Week 1.

Redshirt junior Ethan Garbers was slated to be the team’s starter prior to Moore’s surprise commitment to the Bruins. After transferring from Washington after the 2020 season, the 6-foot-3 pocket passer has completed 57 of his 88 pass attempts and thrown for 599 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions in 18 games across two seasons.

Despite acting primarily as a backup to Thompson-Robinson during his UCLA career thus far, Garbers had ups and downs during his few key moments of gametime.

In 2021, Garbers completed 27 of 44 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns during a surprise start at Utah, but the Bruins lost 44-24 to the Utes. The then-redshirt freshman also replaced an injured Thompson-Robinson late in the fourth quarter against Oregon, but ultimately threw a game-clinching interception to fall once again.

Butthe California native finally had his brightest moment for UCLA in the team’s Sun Bowl appearance last season. Garbers replaced an injured Thompson-Robinson once again, but this time led the Bruins on a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter before the defense ultimately lost the game.

Garbers represents the familiar option in the quarterback battle as the only potential signal-caller that has already played meaningful game action for UCLA. While experienced, senior Chase Griffin is buried on the depth chart, and fellow returner redshirt freshman Justyn Martin did not play a snap in his true freshman campaign.

Neither Martin or Griffin appear to have any chance at earning the starting or backup spot.

That leaves redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee, who announced his decision to transfer to the Bruins from Kent State before Moore committed to UCLA.

Schlee is the most experienced option in the group after playing an entire season as a starting quarterback in 2022. He’s the wildcard of the quarterback room, but it would take something disastrous from Moore and Garbers for Schlee to get the Week 1 starting nod.

Predictions

The first question is who will play the position for the Bruins.

While coach Chip Kelly has not tipped his hand, many assume that Moore will eventually take over as the starting quarterback this season. His five-star pedigree and newsworthy arrival in Westwood makes him a difficult player to keep on the bench for very long.

That being said, Garbers could still be the favorite to start in Week 1 against Coastal Carolina, thus making the starting quarterback job his to lose. If he finds success early, Garbers could delay Moore’s arrival to the Westwood spotlight.

Regardless of who starts, the second – and arguably more important – question is how well they fill the hole left by Thompson-Robinson.

The transfer arrivals of wide receivers redshirt sophomore J. Michael Sturdivant and senior Kyle Ford, as well as a loaded running backroom, mean that UCLA’s quarterback arguably has a deeper set of weapons than the previous signal caller ever had.

It will take time to replace Thompson-Robinson, but with these weapons and Kelly’s offensive play calling, returning to similar form is possible for the Bruins’ offense in 2023.

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
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