LOS ANGELES -- Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a true freshman who didn't become a starting quarterback until his senior year of high school, was going to play in Chip Kelly's UCLA debut -- just not that much.
Thompson-Robinson was pressed into action after grad transfer Wilton Speight injured his back while scrambling at the five-minute mark of the second quarter in Saturday's 26-17 loss to underdog Cincinnati.
Thompson-Robinson finished 15-of-25 passing, throwing for 117 yards and absorbing four sacks. He fumbled while trying to run upfield at the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter, resulting in the safety that put Cincinnati ahead. He threw wide of intended receiver Dymond Lee on fourth-and-1 from the Bruins' 36-yard line with less than six minutes left, setting up Cincinnati's game-sealing touchdown drive.
Thompson-Robinson was consistently inaccurate, but he also displayed the live arm and impressive mobility that made him ESPN's 34th-best prospect in this year's recruiting class.
"I think that Dorian really has a good skill set," Kelly said in confirming that Thompson-Robinson would have played "at some point" even if Speight hadn't suffered an injury. "He throws the ball extremely well. He's versatile with his feet. He's a unique kid."
In his Rose Bowl debut, UCLA trainers appeared to be working on Speight's lower back after he was tackled from behind by 6-foot-2, 287-pound nose tackle Marquise Copeland. But Kelly didn't have an update on Speight's condition postgame.
Speight, a pure pocket passer, was named UCLA's starter on Thursday, beating a couple of dual-threat quarterbacks in Thompson-Robinson and Devon Modster. Kelly's offense is a better fit for mobile quarterbacks, but he valued Speight's experience on a roster with only seven seniors.
"Wilson has a very calming influence around everybody," Kelly said. "He'd started 16 games at Michigan, and he had done a really nice job for us since we'd started back in August. Our staff felt that with his experience, that was the best situation for us."
Thompson-Robinson showed his talent when UCLA went to an empty set in the second half. He evaded a free rusher, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a perfect, on-line throw deep down the left sideline to Christian Pabico, who dropped what could have been an 84-yard touchdown.
"He's got all the talent of a very good quarterback," Kelly said. "It's just a matter of getting him more reps. And you saw him today: As he started to get a bit more comfortable, I thought that he made some more plays out there. We'll continue to grow with him."