Saturday, July 13, 2024

Travis Dye injury casts shadow over USC thumping Colorado

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LOS ANGELES — As trainers surrounded Travis Dye, USC quarterback Caleb Williams knelt near the fallen running back. Fellow backs Austin Jones and Raleek Brown bent over their teammate. Darwin Barlow took a knee beside them, the entire USC sideline in the same position behind him.

Dye, the Oregon transfer who immediately became a voice that every Trojan listened to, had his left leg crumple beneath him on a second-quarter carry against Colorado. The announced Coliseum crowd of 61,206 felt the weight of the injury from the moment the trusted back went down.

When Dye was finally helped up to the cart, air cast around his left leg, the entire USC sideline swarmed around him – coaches, players, team managers. Even a few Colorado players paid respects to the Pac-12 stalwart before he was driven off the field, a thumbs-up to the clapping USC fans.

The eighth-ranked Trojans won a game Friday night 55-17 over the Buffs. But the loss that USC suffered on the same night felt more seismic than the only actual game USC dropped this season.

Dye has been USC’s leading rusher this season, but he’s also been one of the leading voices in his 10 months with the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 in Pac-12). From pregame inspirational speeches to postgame warnings against complacency, Dye was one of the foundational pieces for the culture new head coach Lincoln Riley has tried to implement.

And he likely had a lot he wanted to say to the team after its shaky start to Friday’s game.

Just about every offensive mistake you can imagine, USC committed it in the 18 minutes of the game. Overthrows by Williams, or an underthrow that was wrestled away from Brenden Rice for the quarterback’s second interception of the year. A snap that flew past Williams before he was ready for it. Offensive pass interference and ineligible man downfield penalties on the same play.

It was only through the sheer will of defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu, and the ineptitude of Colorado (1-9, 1-6), that USC stayed in the game. The junior had 2.5 sacks and a safety in the first half, not to mention a forced fumble that led to USC’s second touchdown.

With his arm needing more time to get ready, Williams settled for making plays with his feet. He kept the ball on two zone reads and scurried into the end zone on both to make the scoreboard look a little more like the outcome expected by all against this Colorado team.

A Tahj Washington 61-yard catch-and-run TD, backup punter Will Rose’s two-point conversion and backflip celebration, and a Calen Bullock interception, and USC had the game wrapped up by the end of the third quarter.

For good measure after Bullock’s interception, Williams tossed a forward lateral to Jones, who leaped into the end zone. As he celebrated, Jones held up two then six fingers to honor Dye, by then on the sidelines with crutches and a soft cast around his lower left leg.

The injury was eerily reminiscent of Drake London’s ankle break a year ago: a star offensive player being carted off the Coliseum field, his college career likely coming to a premature end.

But London was the lone bright spot in a lost season. Dye was the workhorse back who kept the USC offense balanced. Whatever College Football Playoff path ahead of USC gets considerably more difficult without his presence.

Thoughts like that, though, were surely not on the Trojans’ minds as they gathered around Dye’s cart. Their leader had fallen, and it was their turn to be there for him.

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