If all goes well, Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s in-game signing of a hat and hurdling of a defender won’t be his final highlights in the cross-town rivalry.
They’ll just be a prelude to something more breathtaking.
“We want to be even better, we want to break 60 [points] and all that stuff,” the UCLA quarterback said Monday, with his final game against USC coming Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl.
In the latest installment of Dorian Unfiltered, the fifth-year senior, who has ditched conventional answers over the last two months, offered his unvarnished take on his last rivalry game after splitting the previous four.
“Obviously we hate those guys across town, it’s a bitter feeling with those guys,” Thompson-Robinson told a media throng three times its usual size, “but at the end of the day we have to come out here and play Bruin football, execute on our side of the ball and make sure we’re doing everything we can to go out there and win on Saturday.”
Unlike last year, when USC was hurrying to end a rare losing season and UCLA was jostling for a mid-tier bowl game, the stakes will transcend bragging rights. The No. 8 Trojans (9-1 overall, 7-1 Pac-12) remain the Pac-12’s last hope for a College Football Playoff berth and the No. 12 Bruins (8-2, 5-2) remain in the running for their first conference title since 1998 even after going splat against Arizona last weekend.
It figures to be the largest — and loudest — crowd of the season at the Rose Bowl. UCLA announced Monday that it would remove four of the 12 end zone tarps, leaving the ones that spell out “UCLA” while increasing capacity from 53,170 to 70,865.
Thompson-Robinson has appeared in four rivalry games, starting three. He was on the field alongside quarterback Wilton Speight for one trick play — carrying the ball and losing one yard — to start UCLA’s win in 2018. His gutsy play a year later was overshadowed by USC counterpart Kedon Slovis’ four touchdowns in a Trojans’ runaway. In 2020, his Bruins lost a shootout with no fans present during the COVID-19 season. Last season, in what was initially thought to be his final rivalry game, Thompson-Robinson accounted for six touchdowns — four passing, two rushing — during a 62-33 romp over the Trojans at the Coliseum.
After sprinting into the end zone on one touchdown run, he obliged a 12-year-old USC fan standing above a wall ledge who held out a UCLA hat and a pen for him to sign, earning a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Thompson-Robinson also hurdled cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart on the way to another touchdown.
By returning this season, Thompson-Robinson decided his rivalry story needed a final act.
“Just like anything with experience, getting to go through it again and again, you want more of it,” said Thompson-Robinson, who acknowledged the need to keep his emotions in check after going through senior day festivities before the game. “Obviously, we’ve been a little rocky at times with the consistency and staying with it in the games in previous years, so I think last year was a really good year for us going against them and trying to improve on that and not trying to go backward.”
The Trojans provided extra incentive for Thompson-Robinson based on the way they departed the Rose Bowl after pulling out a 43-38 victory in the final minute two years ago.
“I remember it clear as day, cussing at us, flipping us off, as disrespectful as you can get,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so we’ve got to go out there on Saturday and do the best we can to win this game.”
This time, the hatred might not even wait until kickoff.
“When we see each other face to face,” Thompson-Robinson said, “there’s going to be some words and some nice little trash thrown across.”