USC plays Washington State for the first time in three years Saturday in a Pac-12 Conference opener at the Coliseum. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the story lines:
USC Coach Lane Kiffin once again declined to announce a starting quarterback, but Cody Kessler is expected to be up first for the second consecutive game, with Max Wittek also ready to play.
Kessler, a third-year sophomore, struggled against Hawaii before rallying near the end of the first half. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
"I was kind of thinking of all the outside stuff and . . . not playing my game," Kessler said, adding, "I feel so much better this week, just getting that first game out of the way."
Wittek, also a third-year sophomore, completed five of 10 passes for 77 yards in the second half.
Washington State's Connor Halliday, a fourth-year junior, completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions, in Washington State's 31-24 loss at Auburn.
Carrying the load
Third-year sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Justin Davis are coming off impressive debuts at tailback for the Trojans.
Madden started against Hawaii and rushed for 109 yards in 18 carries, including a 34-yard gain. Davis rushed for 74 yards in 14 carries. Sophomore Javorius Allen had four carries for 18 yards.
Washington State, which ranked last nationally in rushing in 2012, had 120 yards rushing against Auburn. Teondray Caldwell, a sophomore who played at Venice High, rushed for 53 yards in seven carries. Sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa ran for two touchdowns.
Get a grip
USC All-American Marqise Lee caught eight passes for 104 yards in the opener, but dropped two passes — one that would have kept alive a first-quarter drive and another in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Nelson Agholor caught a touchdown pass but also had a drop.
Washington State receiver Gabe Marks, a sophomore who played at Venice High, caught nine passes for 81 yards against Auburn. Bobby Ratliff, a junior from Etiwanda High, caught three passes for 66 yards, including a touchdown.
USC intercepted four passes against Hawaii, including one each by safeties Su'a Cravens, Josh Shaw and Dion Bailey. With cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour suffering injuries against Hawaii, Shaw also worked at cornerback during practice this week.
Washington State's secondary was untested by Auburn, which completed only 10 passes for 99 yards.
Line 'em up
USC's offensive line had some highs and lows in the opener, paving the way for 192 yards rushing but giving up three sacks, including one for a safety.
The Trojans face a defensive front led by tackle Ioane Gauta and linebacker Darryl Monroe. The Cougars had one sack in the opener.
USC recorded seven sacks against Hawaii, including two each by linemen George Uko and Leonard Williams. Linebacker Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks last season, sat out the opener because of an injury, but practiced this week and could play against Washington State.
Washington State gave up a nation-worst 4.75 sacks a game in 2012 but in the opener gave up only two.
USC kicker Andre Heidari kicked field goals of 20, 52 and 22 yards against Hawaii and appeared to have the confidence he displayed as a freshman in 2011.
Kris Albarado averaged 43.3 yards for six punts in his debut.
Lee had one kickoff return for 22 yards. He averaged four yards in two punt returns, and also lost a fumble.
Washington State's Andrew Furney kicked a 43-yard field goal against Auburn.
Mike Bowlin averaged 39.2 yards in five punts.
Caldwell had a 30-yard kickoff return. Leon Brooks is atop the depth chart for punt returns.
Mike Leach, in his second season as Washington State's coach, enters a series dominated by the Trojans. USC is 58-8-4 against the Cougars, though five of the Trojans' eight losses came at the Coliseum.
USC has not lost to Washington State since 2002, 30-27, in overtime at Pullman, Wash. The Cougars defeated USC, 33-27, at the Coliseum in 2000.
In the last three games between the teams, USC outscored Washington State, 146-22.
Twitter: @latimeskleinCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun