Three UCLA quarterbacks to see field against Coastal Carolina
Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers looks downfield. Garbers was named the starting quarterback for UCLA football’s game against Coastal Carolina. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Jack Nelson
Aug. 30, 2023 2:17 p.m.
The three-man race to earn the Bruins’ starting quarterback nod came down to a virtual photo finish.
It was so close, in fact, that a true winner hasn’t necessarily been decided.
Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers emerged from UCLA football’s fall camp with the starting role in hand, selected by coach Chip Kelly for Saturday’s season opener against Coastal Carolina. But his main competition is right behind him.
While Garbers will take the first offensive snap, Kelly said both freshman Dante Moore and redshirt junior Collin Schlee will also get playing time in the Bruins’ week one contest.
“With these guys, it is a unique situation, but they deserve to play. That’s the only fair way to do it,” Kelly said. “They’re all competing at a really, really high level. To say, ‘Alright, we’re just going to pick him, and you other two guys have to sit,’ that’s just not the way it shook out.”
A three-pronged approach at the position is an especially unfamiliar sight in Westwood, with former quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson having guided the Bruin offense for the past four years. The last time UCLA brought out three different signal callers in one game was against FCS foe Alabama State in 2022, and that was after it already possessed a 38-point lead.
It will be the first time in Kelly’s coaching career that he’s opted for a tri-quarterback strategy.
Garbers’ selection represents the coaching staff’s prioritization of familiarity above all, Kelly said. The redshirt junior spent the past two seasons as second string behind Thompson-Robinson and has more time within the offensive system than Moore and Schlee combined.
He doesn’t have Moore’s five-star recruit pedigree or Schlee’s starting experience, but Garbers is most entrenched in the program. Now relieved from mop-up duty, he’ll take the reins – at least for the start of the season.
“It is what it is,” Garbers said. “I’m going to go out there and do what I can do, control what I can control and give it my all every snap.”
In 12 appearances at quarterback for the Bruins – 11 off the bench – Garbers has passed for 599 yards and four touchdowns against four interceptions en route to a 65% completion percentage. His only previous start – spurred by an injury to Thompson-Robinson – was against Utah in 2021, where he went 27-for-44 for 265 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Garbers’ first true start is a culmination of two years of backup work, as well as of what he set out to accomplish back in the spring when he realized the strength of his competition, Garbers said.
“My goal was to increase my overall knowledge of football and defenses and of our offense, and I think that has been the biggest stride,” Garbers said. “Going out there, it kind of just feels like a video game – and I’m seeing everything good, and I know what I’m looking at and what I’m looking for.”
Moore was an early favorite to land the job since becoming the second-highest-ranked recruit in program history. And throughout fall camp, Kelly has lauded the newcomer’s consistent accuracy and poise in the pocket despite Moore being the youngest member of the three.
His efforts weren’t enough to beat out Garbers, but with guaranteed game action in store for both himself and Schlee, the competition remains ongoing. The right to lead the Bruins through the thicket of conference play is still up for grabs.
“I know this quarterback room is really special,” Moore said. “Learning from their mistakes, them telling me stories about just how the game goes – it’s a true blessing for sure.”
Saturday at the Rose Bowl now awaits – a far bigger stage for the competition to continue.