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First look: WSU at USC

Time: 7:15 p.m. Saturday. TV: FSN

The records: WSU (1-2, 0-1 in Pac-10); USC (2-1; 0-1)

Last week: USC lost to Washington, 16-13; WSU defeated SMU, 30-27 (OT)

Last time: USC defeated WSU, 69-0, in Pullman last season

The line: USC by 43

What it means for WSU

A close win over a middle-rung Conference USA team at home is one thing. Playing well on the road against the best the Pac-10 has to offer is another. If the Cougars do that, they will announce to the rest of the conference they aren’t the same doormats they were last season. But go down to Los Angeles, get thundered early and then fail to fight to the finish would signal another tough-to-deal-with Pac-10 season. Who is on top at the end isn’t as important to WSU as playing with passion and not giving up.

What it means for USC

If the Trojans had gone into Seattle and performed like they were expected to, this one would mean very little. But now USC needs to show poll voters throughout the country last week’s loss was a fluke, not a trend. Expect the Trojans to come out blazing, with Matt Barkley at quarterback and Taylor Mays at safety (both missed the UW debacle). The defense, despite having to replace eight starters, has played well in all three games. The offense has sputtered, so expect USC to do everything possible to get rolling.

Key matchup

WSU middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis vs. USC center Kristofer O’Dowd.

The Trojans offensive line is what makes their offense go and O’Dowd is the centerpiece of that group. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection last season and deservedly so. Not only is he big and strong, like all the Trojans linemen, he’s exceptionally quick for a man his size. Across the way will be Hoffman-Ellis, who is exceptionally fast for the position he plays. But size matters as well and Hoffman-Ellis gives up 4 inches and almost 70 pounds to O’Dowd. It will be crucial for Hoffman-Ellis to make quick reads and get into the right place before O’Dowd or another offensive lineman can get to him, using his speed to overcome their size.

- Vince Grippi

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