Does UCLA’s Offense Change With Ethan Garbers? Bruins Find Week 1 Successor to Dorian Thompson-Robinson

With Dorian Thompson-Robinson in Cleveland, many wonder if the RPO becomes more pass heavy with the pro style passer Ethan Garbers now.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson has now taken his flair for arm and leg theatrics to the NFL, as the longtime UCLA starting quarterback since 2018 has now energized the Cleveland Browns’ “Dawg Pound” during the 2023 preseason.

Ethan Garbers is now the QB1 for UCLA ahead of its season opener versus Coastal Carolina. Head coach Chip Kelly made it official on Monday. But for Bruin fans, will the offense drastically change with Garbers behind center and pivot away from the RPO (Run Pass Option) approach that was a staple of the “DTR” era?

Ethan Garbers to Still Be Limited, But For This Reason

Garbers was awarded the beginning QB duties versus the Chanticleers because, as Kelly put it in the L.A. media during Monday’s presser, “He’s the most experienced in our offense. He’s been in our system the longest, so that’s why he’s the starter.”

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However, Kelly revealed he plans to throw in Kent State transfer Collin Schlee and five-star freshman newcomer Dante Moore in the opener.

“All three of them deserve to play,” Kelly said. “They’ve all played outstanding. It’s been a really good battle with those guys, a healthy competition, and they’ve all earned playing time.”

According to UCLA for 247Sports Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online Monday, Garbers still has a leg up in the experience room. But he mentioned who UCLA feels energized about.

“The feeling, from what we know according to sources inside the program, is that the staff feels more secure in starting the more-experienced Garbers, but they are excited about Moore’s talent and potential,” Pierson wrote.

Garbers Got CFB Start Outside of Home State

Unlike Thompson-Robinson, Garbers’ collegiate career began elsewhere — in the Pacific Northwest, to be exact.

He was originally committed to Washington as the nation’s fourth-best pro-style quarterback by 247Sports. Two notable names ranked ahead of him? The No. 2 overall pick to the Houston Texans, C.J. Stroud, and the No. 1 rated pro-style QB, D.J. Uiagalelei, who has since gone from Clemson to Oregon State.

But even as a pro-style passer, not everything about Garbers’ game is drop back, set up, and throw.

Garbers ran a reported 4.91 time in the 40-yard dash. He has shown an ability to run when he needs to, when there’s an oncoming pass rusher, and he’s forced out of the pocket.

However, Garbers still brings the pocket awareness and deep ball strength that made him a coveted recruit out of Orange County powerhouse Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach.

Furthermore, with experienced transfers in Kyle Ford from USC and J. Michael Strudivant from Cal on board, UCLA will most likely want to establish the air attack right away — especially in tapping into their own expertise in attacking defenses downfield as past Pac-12 contributors. However, that’s not the lone reason UCLA likely wants to establish the air attack right away with Garbers’ right arm.

What Kind of Defense Will Garbers and Bruins Face?

Coastal Carolina is scrapping what it did last year on defense.

When the defense ranks 110th in scoring and 124th last season against the pass, change becomes an option. Now, Craig Naivar has installed a 4-3 look as the first step in changing the production from 2022.

Even with CC planning to start five seniors, it’s still a relatively inexperienced unit with four returning starters. Additionally, the Chanticleers lost past impact freshman Josiah Stewart to the transfer portal. He delivered 15.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks in 2021 but managed only 10 TFLs and 3.5 sacks in ’22. He has since relocated to Ann Arbor and will suit up for College Football Playoff representative Michigan.

Here’s where things can bode perfectly for Garbers and the passing scheme: Coastal only has one projected starting returner in the secondary, Tobias Fletcher. Sophomore Matthew McDoom did get action in 13 games last season and delivered 11 solo tackles. Jacob Proche is the lone returner in the secondary who snatched an interception last season, but he was one of only six defenders who got an aerial takeaway with just one, as no Chanticleers defensive back surpassed two interceptions.

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Naivar, however, is no novice in preparing for Pac-12 teams. In 2020-21, he was the safeties coach at USC — so he’s already familiar with one of Garbers’ projected go-to options, Ford. Naivar was also on the Texas staff that faced USC in 2017 and 2018.

But while a rotation of QBs sounds imminent in Pasadena, the Garbers era of Bruins football is set to begin with the Sun Belt Conference powerhouse as the first major test.