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WSU-USC: First look

USC’s Marqise Lee (9) stepped out of trouble against Hawaii and he figures to be a handful for WSU. (Associated Press)
USC’s Marqise Lee (9) stepped out of trouble against Hawaii and he figures to be a handful for WSU. (Associated Press)


Washington State at Southern Cal

Time : 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Fox Sports 1

Records: WSU (0-1, 0-0 in Pac-12); USC (1-0, 0-0 in Pac-12)

Last time: USC defeated WSU in Pullman, 50-16, in 2010

The line: USC by 15

What it means for WSU: The second of two difficult season-opening road games doesn’t look quite as daunting for the Cougars after their tightly contested 31-24 loss at Auburn. WSU outgained the Tigers by 68 yards in that game, and the Cougars insist turnovers and big plays were the only things separating them from victory. They also allowed 297 yards rushing, and the Trojans are a team that, like Auburn, wants to run the ball to set up the pass. They’re also thought to be more talented, so this will be a test of whether WSU can truly compete with the Pac-12 elite.

What it means for USC: It’s a make-or-break year for coach Lane Kiffin, who led the Trojans to an unacceptable 7-6 record in 2012 and is more or less coaching for his job. A 30-13 win over Hawaii last week was generally received as unimpressive, and USC is still trying to decide between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek at quarterback. This isn’t a game in which Trojans fans will accept a loss. USC needs to win, and win fairly comfortably, for this weekend to be considered a success.

Key matchup: Marqise Lee vs. WSU’s secondary

Simply put, the Cougars will not face a receiver this season better than Lee, who is widely considered one of the best players in the country. He caught eight passes for 104 yards in USC’s opener, and his speed and versatility – he also returns kickoffs and punts – make him a threat to score every time he touches the ball. WSU is a bit banged up at cornerback, with senior Nolan Washington’s status unknown after he left last week’s game due to apparent injury, and could play freshman Daquawn Brown more than a little. But defending Lee, who registered 1,721 receiving yards last season, will be a team effort.

Christian Caple