LOS ANGELES — Everybody on Southern California’s sideline poured onto the Coliseum field to surround the cart transporting running back Travis Dye, whose collegiate career had just ended with one awkward tackle.
The Trojans then shook off that abrupt heartbreak and kept rolling toward their ultimate goals for a remarkable rebound season in which Dye has been a prime producer and an emotional leader.
“There’s no way we would be sitting here as a football team if it wasn’t for him,” coach Lincoln Riley said.
Caleb Williams passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for two more scores, and No. 8 USC overcame their top ball-carrier’s left leg injury in a 55-17 victory over Colorado on Friday night.
Williams accounted for five total touchdowns in his fourth consecutive outstanding game for the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12), who warmed up for season-defining games against No. 9 UCLA and No. 20 Notre Dame in the next two weeks with a slow start followed by a blowout victory over the Buffaloes (1-9, 1-6).
Former Colorado receiver Brenden Rice had 70 yards receiving and a touchdown for the Trojans, while Tahj Washington and Austin Jones caught TD passes from Williams in the third quarter. Jones threw up a 2 and a 6 after his score to honor the jersey number of Dye, the Pac-12’s second-leading rusher with 884 yards.
“To see him go out like that, it hurts me,” Jones said. “We’ve got to step up and take on what he’s been doing so well, and keep it going.”
Dye left the field with an air cast on his left leg after going down awkwardly in the second quarter. The Oregon transfer and Los Angeles-area native has been a key component of the Trojans’ immediate transformation from a four-win program to a College Football Playoff contender.
Riley said he doesn’t expect Dye to play again this season, but the injury shouldn’t cause him long-term damage. Dye flashed USC’s signature V for Victory to his cheering fans on his way to the Coliseum tunnel before he returned to watch the second half from the sideline on crutches.
“He’ll be playing on an NFL team next year,” Riley said.
The Trojans still scored at least 41 points for the fourth consecutive game with a prolific offense led by Williams, who had another standout game despite throwing only his second interception of the season. Williams has accounted for 37 total touchdowns in 10 games at USC.
“I just care about competing and winning,” Williams said. “If I come out with five (touchdowns), I come out with five. If I come out with one, I come out with one.”
Alex Fontenot rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown for the Buffaloes, who have yielded 188 points during their four-game losing streak under interim coach Mike Sanford.
J.T. Shrout passed for 124 yards and rushed for a late TD while Colorado fell to 0-16 against USC in a series that began in 1927 and includes 11 straight Pac-12 losses for the Buffs.
USC’s defense had its best game in a month, with Tuli Tuipulotu recording 2 1/2 sacks to increase in FBS-leading total to 11 1/2, but the Trojans actually trailed 3-2 after an ugly first quarter.
“Looking at the last two weeks in particular coming into this game, I mean, there’s all the reasons in the world probably to hang your head and not start fast defensively,” Sanford said. “It just shows the resolve and the belief that those players have, and I think you’re also starting to see some great individual efforts.”
USC’s second drive ended when Williams’ underthrown long pass was wrestled away from Rice by Nikko Reed, but USC’s defense scored the game’s first points on a safety moments later when Tuipulotu pressured Shrout into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone.
Williams quickly took control, and he excelled even with a third straight week of minimal help from his top two receivers. Jordan Addison made only one reception in limited action during the Biletnikoff Award winner’s return from a two-game injury absence, but receiver Mario Williams missed his third straight game with an injury.
Colorado: The Buffs’ first quarter will look good on film when Sanford tells them they’ve got a chance to win one of their final two games. This lost season is a motivational challenge, but Sanford’s team clearly is still playing hard with what it has.
USC: Dye’s absence is a blow to the Trojans’ leadership and heart, but they’ve got talented options in Jones and Raleek Brown, who had a career-high 90 total yards and made a 25-yard TD catch from Miller Moss in the fourth quarter. USC’s defensive play, not its running game, almost certainly will determine where the Trojans finish this regular season.
Colorado RB Deion Smith and S Trevor Woods both sat out with injuries, but Sanford expects them to play in the Buffs’ final two games.
Colorado: At Washington on Saturday, Nov. 19.
USC: At UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 19.