USC loses linebackers Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson to injuries

USC linebacker Cameron Smith is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

USC linebacker Cameron Smith is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

(Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)

USC’s defense, which has played well during the Trojans’ four-game winning streak, has lost two key players for the rest of the season.

Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith suffered a knee injury, senior linebacker Lamar Dawson a shoulder injury during the Trojans’ victory at Colorado, interim Coach Clay Helton said Saturday.

“I feel sad for both kids because they brought so much to the table for us this season,” Helton said during a teleconference with reporters.


Smith, the starting middle linebacker and the team’s leading tackler, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Helton said.

Smith had been nursing shoulder and hamstring injuries this season. He started against Colorado, came out during the first half and then returned in the second half, finishing with six tackles.

Smith had a star turn in the Trojans’ victory over Utah when he intercepted three passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.

“He was a difference-maker in several games,” Helton said. “To lose his playmaking ability is, obviously, a blow to us.”

Dawson, a fifth-year senior, was a three-year starter who came back this season from a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of the 2013 season and all of last season.

He was playing well as a backup and had made 31 tackles, including one against Colorado.

“I am just so proud of his play and him being very unselfish with some talent at the position,” Helton said. “He is a total team player and was really playing at a very high level.

“We’re going to miss him.”

Linebacker is perhaps the Trojans’ deepest position group.

Helton said that sophomore Olajuwon Tucker, who had four tackles against Colorado, junior Michael Hutchings, sophomore Uchenna Nwosu and, possibly, junior Jabari Ruffin would have opportunities to fill the void left by Smith and Dawson.

“Fortunately, we’ve got some depth at the position and we’ll take a next-man-up mentality,” Helton said.

The Trojans also suffered a significant injury on offense.

Guard Viane Talamaivao suffered a torn meniscus and will be monitored the rest of the season. Chris Brown played in Talamaivao’s place after he was injured against Colorado.

Quick-strike capability

For the second game in a row, quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster connected for a touchdown pass play immediately after a turnover.

Kessler and Smith-Schuster combined for a 36-yard touchdown after Delvon Simmons blocked a Colorado field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

“It definitely got the momentum on our side and took the crowd out of it a little bit,” Kessler said.

The week before, after USC intercepted a pass against Arizona, Kessler and Smith-Schuster connected for a 72-yard touchdown pass play.

“He’s been a huge safety blanket to me,” Kessler said of Smith-Schuster, who has 63 catches, 10 for touchdowns.

Quick hits

Athletic Director Pat Haden did not attend the game at Colorado — the fourth consecutive game he watched from home — but Helton said he received a text from Haden after Friday’s victory and had spoken to him Saturday. “I talk to Coach Haden very regularly,” Helton said. Coach Haden? “I’ve always called him Coach Haden,” Helton said.


Helton’s parents were at the Colorado game to see their son coach the Trojans in person for the first time. Kim Helton, a former college and pro coach, was on the sideline before the game. “He’s an O-line by heart and he’s always given me great advice,” Clay Helton said.


USC plays its next game at Oregon, a 38-36 winner Saturday against Stanford.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @LATimesklein