QB battle a key focus in CU Buffs’ opener vs. UCLA

In terms of experience at quarterback, Colorado and UCLA couldn’t be much more different.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a third-year starter, including two games under his belt against the Buffaloes.

Colorado senior Sam Noyer will make his first career start at quarterback on Saturday against UCLA.

CU starter Sam Noyer and backup Tyler Lytle are both older than Thompson-Robinson, but neither of them has ever started a game.

On Saturday, the experience of Thompson-Robinson and the inexperience of the Buffs will be on display when the two teams meet at Folsom Field in the season opener at 5 p.m. (TV: ESPN2).

“It’s comforting to know we have a veteran back there pulling the trigger,” UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said Monday in a conference call with media.

Entering his third season leading the Bruins, Kelly has had Thompson-Robinson as his starting quarterback for 18 of 24 games in his tenure, including 11 games in 2019.

Although the Bruins are just 7-17 the past two years — including 5-13 with Thompson-Robinson as the starter — they’ve seen the young quarterback mature.

Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 4,012 yards, 28 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, including 2,701 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. He added 198 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in 2019 and has reportedly had a good camp over the past month.

“I just think in year three, there’s a lot more comfort level in Dorian: knowledge, understanding, not only route structure, not only route concepts; protections that are involved in it; being able to help you at the line with their checks,” Kelly said. “He’s just a more mature and seasoned player now because he is going into year three and he works really, really hard at the details of the game.

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“When you have someone that’s been there before and done that, you know how he’ll react when things don’t go well, you know how he’ll react when things do go well. You’re familiar with just the day-to-day operation of things with him. We’re very thankful that we’ve got a kid back that has played a lot of football here over the last two years.”

In Thompson-Robinson’s third career start, on Sept. 28, 2018, UCLA lost to the Buffs at Folsom Field, 38-16. He completed just 17-of-35 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown that night. Last year, in Los Angeles, Thompson-Robinson led UCLA to a 31-14 win against CU, completing 21-of-28 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 38 yards.

“He’s obviously a great quarterback,” said CU outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski, whose group will try to put pressure on the Bruins’ leader. “He can really zip the ball in there and he’s got elite arm talent, but what he can do with his legs is something that we’re certainly aware of and we have to do a great job of containing him and keeping him within the pocket.”

Michalowski said he could see the growth in Thompson-Robinson as last year went along.

“He’s certainly developed,” he said. “He was someone that we faced some challenges with last year, but we’re up to the challenge this year.”

The challenge for UCLA is in not knowing much about Noyer, a fifth-year senior who was named the Buffs’ starter on Friday. Noyer has made nine career appearances off the bench at quarterback, completing 21-of-41 passes for 179 yards and an interception.

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“There’s a little film on him,” Kelly said. “We know he’s a tremendous athlete. He obviously played some safety for them (in 2019), so you’ve got to be athletic to be able to move and switch positions and go to another side (of the ball).