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First Look: USC at Washington State

Time: Noon (PDT) Saturday. TV: FSN Northwest Records: WSU (1-2, 0-0 in Pac-10); USC (3-0, 0-0) Last week: Washington State lost to Southern Methodist, 35-21. USC defeated Minnesota, 32-21 Last time: USC defeated WSU, 27-6, in Los Angeles in 2009. The line: USC by 24. What it means for WSU: Respectability. Compete with the Trojans, the Pac-10’s gold standard the past decade, and folks might begin to believe this version of the Cougars can play a little bit. Self-destruct or get pushed around and the naysayers have another argument to make. Sure, this isn’t the same USC team that Pete Carroll brought to Pullman in 2008, but the Trojans still have a stable of athletes that WSU can’t match. For the first time against an FBS team this season, however, the Cougars won’t be spread out on defense. Instead, it will be a mano-a-mano battle in the trenches, meaning toughness takes precedence. What it means for USC: The Trojans are undefeated but unimpressive, especially by their exacting standards. Hawaii, which was hammered by Colorado on Saturday, ran them all over the field, Virginia almost upset them at home and Minnesota, a Big Ten also-ran, led 14-13 in the third quarter. Another close game in Pullman and 20th-ranked USC will have more questions than answers. Even a win, if not done in dominating fashion, opens new coach Lane Kiffin and his staff to second-guessing. Key matchup: USC defensive front vs. WSU offensive line. The Trojans have shown a vulnerability against the pass thus far this season, having given up 459 yards in the opener to Hawaii and another 224 to Minnesota last week. They are 110th out of the 120 FBS schools in pass defense. But USC also has eight sacks, and Washington State has given up 10, more than all but eight schools thus far. If the Cougar front can give Jeff Tuel time, WSU has a chance to take advantage of the Trojans with Jared Karstetter, Marquess Wilson, et al. If USC is in Tuel’s face too often, the passing game will sputter.
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