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How will USC replace Travis Dye? Four takeaways from the Trojans’ win over Colorado

USC running back Travis Dye is consoled by quarterback Caleb Williams.
USC running back Travis Dye is consoled by quarterback Caleb Williams after sustaining a leg injury against Colorado at the Coliseum on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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It was ugly. It was painful in more ways than one. But in the end, USC’s 55-17 drubbing of Colorado was enough.

The No. 8 Trojans stayed on course after losing to Utah last month and remain in the College Football Playoff semifinal hunt entering next week’s rivalry game against UCLA, but the three-game win streak against conference bottom-feeders wasn’t inspiring.

Tuli Tuipulotu helped the Trojans unlock their potential on defense in a 55-17 win over Colorado, but Travis Dye’s injury makes it a bittersweet win.

Nov. 12, 2022

Arizona rolled up 543 yards against USC’s defense, and famously offensively challenged California flirted with the 500-yard mark as well. The offense that earned the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12) rave reviews from the playoff selection committee scored two points in the first quarter against Colorado, whose defense ranks 130th out of 131 teams nationally in points allowed. But the biggest impact from Friday’s win is the loss of running back Travis Dye, who suffered a lower leg injury that will sideline the leading rusher for the rest of the season.

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Here are four takeaways from the game:

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What’s next after Travis Dye’s injury?

Caleb Williams was the most important addition to USC’s offense this offseason, but Dye’s transfer from Oregon proved to be a close second. The way teammates surrounded the injury cart in a sea of cardinal and gold showed that Dye’s influence was much deeper than his team-leading 884 yards, 145 carries and nine touchdowns.

Replacing Dye falls to Austin Jones, a transfer from Stanford who flashed his potential with a 110-yard, 12-carry game against Fresno State on Sept. 17. But Jones had just 65 yards rushing combined in the next six games as he struggled to stay on the field because of pass-protection deficiencies.

With the starting role back in his hands, Jones said his focus remains the same.

“It’s stay ready and be ready because at the end of the day, when an opportunity comes, I’ve got to seize it,” Jones said.

In his first game after transferring from Stanford, USC’s Austin Jones rushed for two touchdowns. He returns to Palo Alto with the Trojans on Saturday.

Sept. 9, 2022

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With Dye’s injury, Jones finished with 74 yards rushing in 11 carries on Friday and led the team in receptions with four for 39 yards and one touchdown.

“What a great guy we have to turn to in Austin,” said head coach Lincoln Riley, who also highlighted the play of Raleek Brown and Darwin Barlow. “The depth of that room will be tested, and we have three guys in that room ready to go.”

Brown finished with 52 yards rushing in seven carries and Barlow had 41 yards and a touchdown in five rushes.

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Tuli time

USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu knocks down a pass bay Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout
USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu knocks down a pass by Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout in the first quarter at the Coliseum on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Even when its offense sputtered early, USC could count on a big performance from defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu, who jump-started the Trojans with 2.5 sacks, a pass breakup and a forced fumble on a strip sack all in the first half. One of his sacks led to a safety when Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, allowing the defense to score USC’s first points when the offense mustered just eight yards in the first quarter.

“We talk to our guys about not just playing the game to be a placeholder, not just to do your job and be there, but to actually when you get to that point where you’ve done your job and you’re in your gap or you’ve made your block, are you doing it with intent to really make a play every single time?” Riley said. “Are you going to make it every single time? No, but if you have that mentality, then when opportunity shows up, you’re ready to make it and Tuli I think really embodies that for us.”

The Lawndale product increased his nation-leading sack total to 11.5. He is the first USC player to reach double-digit sacks since Rasheem Green in 2017.

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Foreman alert

USC's Korey Foreman celebrates his tackle for a loss against Colorado with Tyrone Talent and Stanley Taufo'ou
USC’s Korey Foreman (0) celebrates his tackle for a loss against Colorado with Trojans Tyrone Talent (31) and Stanley Taufo’ou at the Coliseum on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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While the Trojans’ top pass rusher made his presence felt once again Friday, a former top prospect also made his mark along USC’s defensive front.

Korey Foreman had played sparingly in recent weeks, even as USC was desperate for depth at the edge rusher position. But on Friday, he burst into the backfield early in the second quarter, throwing down Colorado running back Alex Fontenot for a three-yard loss.

It was a positive sign for Foreman — and for USC’s defense, which could stand to add another weapon to its pass rush. But defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was less than effusive in his praise for Foreman.

“Our expectations have not been met and his expectations for himself have not been met and that’s a good thing that he expects to play better,” Grinch said. “And it’s good to move the needle a little bit tonight.”

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Receiver shuffle

USC receiver Brenden Rice (2) celebrates his touchdown catch with Tahj Washington.
USC receiver Brenden Rice (2) celebrates his touchdown catch against Colorado with Trojan Tahj Washington at the Coliseum on Friday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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Jordan Addison returned to the field after a two-game absence but was nearly invisible on the stat sheet with just one catch for two yards that took place on USC’s first offensive play. Addison was targeted only twice. Riley said the plan was to ease Addison back into play after he suffered a leg injury against Utah.

USC also had to adapt to the absence of Mario Williams, who sat out for the third consecutive game despite warming up.

Brenden Rice took a starring role with a team-high six targets. The Colorado transfer finished with three catches for 70 yards and one touchdown but denied that a possible revenge factor fed his expanded role in the game plan.

“I wish it was part of the game plan,” Rice said. “It was just being in position to make plays and I had to go ahead and capitalize on those opportunities.”

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