LOS ANGELES — In the first three games of this season, USC running back Ronald Jones shouldered a heavy workload.
Jones ran 18 times in the opener against Western Michigan, equaled a career-high 23 carries against Stanford and followed with 18 more against Texas.
Then he was hurt. The junior was held out at Cal because of a sprained ankle.
The Trojans’ staff has eased him back.
Over the past two weeks, Jones averaged 13 carries per game, a drop from early September when he was a bigger focus of the game plan.
“We got what we could out of him,” USC coach Clay Helton said.
That might change this week.
Jones said most of the swelling in his ankle has subsided. He’s healthier after being limited since his return.
“I’m getting back to full strength,” Jones said.
USC also needs a reliable running threat. Backup Stephen Carr, a freshman, has not practiced since suffering a foot injury at Washington State and remains questionable to play Saturday against Utah. The Utes are regarded for annually fielding physical defensive lines and are often stout against the run. They rank third in the Pac-12 in rush defense through the first six weeks.
“It reminds me of a Stanford ballgame,” Helton said of facing Utah.
Last Saturday against Oregon State, Jones rushed for 79 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries. Helton called it an “efficient” effort. His longest run was for 13 yards, but he averaged almost 7 yards per carry.
“The production is still there when we get the opportunity,” Jones said, “but as long as we’re winning ballgames, it doesn’t matter.”
BIG MAN DOWN
Freshman defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu will miss the rest of the season after he underwent back surgery Tuesday, thinning USC’s defensive line.
Helton did not detail the nature of the injury, only describing it as a “lower-back injury.”
“I’m not a doctor,” he said.
Tuipulotu is eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver, and Helton expected it to be granted. He…