With Oregon junior running back CJ Verdell out for the rest of the season with a leg injury, the Ducks will be counting on another young back to carry the load.
Verdell’s absence opens the door for junior Travis Dye to become the focal point of No. 9 Oregon’s (4-1) offense, as they march on towards a Pac-12 Championship Game berth. For that to happen, Oregon will need to run the table, but it won’t be easy without its most dynamic offensive player in Verdell. Enter Dye, who is more than ready to lead the backfield.
“It’s on me now,” Dye said during his press conference on Wednesday. “It’s on my shoulders, and I got to pick it up a lot more now. I got to fill that void that is missing from C.J., and I definitely accept the challenge.”
Dye has been effective this season in a split role, rushing for 382 yards on 60 carries for three scores. Ninety-six of those yards came in Oregon’s 31-24 overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 2, when Dye came close to notching 20 touches in a single game for the first time in his college career. Despite never having the opportunity to have a huge workload, Dye said he’s prepared for whatever comes to him.
“Last year, I had a few games like that because C.J. was down a little bit last year too,” Dye said. “I’m definitely ready. I’m ready. My legs are ready. I feel good. I feel healthy. I’m ready to do what the team needs me to do. If it’s 20, it’s 20. If it’s 30, it’s 30. If it’s 10, it’s 10. Whatever the team needs me to do I’m ready for it.”
However, it’s still unlikely that Dye leads the backfield alone on Friday against Cal at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. Head coach Mario Cristobal has been known to rely on a committee approach in the past and even this season when Verdell was healthy. Dye will likely concede carries to at least one of the freshman trio of Trey Benson, Seven McGee and Byron Cardwell.
The three have combined for just 13 carries this season, with Cardwell seeing the most playing time with six carries for 22 yards. But now it’s an opportunity for the trio, as Oregon will continue to rely on its running game to take the pressure off senior quarterback Anthony Brown.
“We typically play two heavy and then a third back gets a couple of reps,” Cristobal said. “It’ll be somewhere divvied up between three guys. The actual percentage of carries will be determined by how each particular back can handle it, starting with Travis, which he’s handled it really well. He’s bigger, he’s stronger and he’s done a great job for us. We expect him to play excellent football.”