EUGENE — More than ever before, Travis Dye is the focal point of Oregon’s running game for the rest of 2021.
The fourth-year junior has split time with C.J. Verdell throughout his career, but with Verdell going down with a season-ending left leg injury the No. 9 Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will call on Dye with even greater regularity.
“It’s on me now,” Dye said of what Verdell’s message to him was over the last week. “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 had 19 carries for a season-high 96 yards and had a career-high four catches for 39 yards in the 31-24 overtime loss to Stanford. It was Dye’s most touches and rushing yards since his career-high 33 carries for 199 yards against Oregon State in 2018.
Oregon has never had to call on Dye for 20 touches (carries, catches and returns) in back-to-back games and while Verdell seldom hit that mark, it was usually due to minor injuries knocking him out of games in 2018 and 2019, when he averaged 17.6 and 15.1 touches per game, respectively.
Dye is averaging a career-high 13.6 touches per game this season and that’s sure to increase. His most carries in consecutive weeks was 18 for 105 yards against Arizona State before his banner day against OSU in 2018.
“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.”
During his senior season at Norco (Calif.) High School, Dye averaged 23.2 carries per game and had four straight games with more than 30 carries, the last two for more than 300 yards and six touchdowns each. Southern California High School games in 2017 aren’t analogous to the Pac-12 slate ahead of Dye, as the weekly wear and tear will be far more intense. A less than ideal note about that stretch in Dye’s career, it ended due to an ankle injury in a playoff quarterfinal.
“It was high school, but it was still a lot,” Dye said. “But I can definitely handle it, 100%. I’ve always had the mindset of whatever the team needs me to do I’ll do it. At full speed, 100% every single play. I believe I’m ready to do it for sure.”
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said the offense won’t change without Verdell and the load of carries will be spread out between Dye and freshmen Trey Benson, Seven McGee and Byron Cardwell Jr. on a weekly basis.
“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.”
There’s no overstating the impact losing Verdell has on Oregon and Dye will be the first to acknowledge that. They’re close friends and Dye said it was “terrible” to lose Verdell for the rest of the season and even beyond his individual impact, the tandem they provided the offense has been a focal point of UO’s offense since 2018.
“You hate to see that a guy who works so hard every single day, brings it every single day, just has an unfortunate end,” Dye said.
“We’ve talked; he’ll be good. He’s going to get back on his feet and he’s going to come back even stronger. … That 1-2 punch with me and C.J., it’s just something different. You can pound C.J., and then you put me out there and then you go 60 (yards). You can even pound me, and put C.J. out there, you can go 60.
“But we’ll be OK. I have to step up a lot more. A lot of these young guys have to step up a lot more and they might not have expected to this early, but we’re going to be alright. They’re going to be fine.”
The Ducks host Cal on Friday at 7:30 p.m., with the game set to be televised on ESPN.