The afternoon heat was sweltering, so USC probably welcomed the chance to play a night game Saturday against Washington State.
But for Coach Lane Kiffin, there was no relief.
Not after Washington State defeated the No. 25 Trojans, 10-7, before a crowd that booed his play-calling throughout the game and chanted “Fire Kiffin” with just more than a minute left.
Athletic Director Pat Haden said before the season that the embattled Kiffin was not on the hot seat after last season's 7-6 finish. But fans were not shy about making their feelings known during a Pac-12 Conference opener that saw the Trojans fall to 1-1.
“You can’t worry about that,” Kiffin said of the boos. “It is what it is. I think heard those before the game started, in warmups actually. So I’m getting used to it.”
Washington State cornerback Damante Horton returned an interception for a touchdown late in the first half and sealed the victory with another after Andrew Furney kicked a field goal with just over three minutes left.
The defeat marked the Trojans' first loss to Washington State since 2002 and the first time they were held under seven points since a 10-6 loss to Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.
USC’s 193 yards was its fewest since totaling 189 against Florida State in 1998. The Trojans’ 54 passing yards were their fewest since a paltry 23 in the same Florida State game.
“When your offense only passes for 50 yards, that’s just embarrassing,” quarterback Cody Kessler said.
Said quarterback Max Wittek: “It all comes down to execution. If we execute we don’t have to hear boos.”
Until USC figures out its quarterback situation and Kiffin believes the offensive line is capable of holding off defenders so the Trojans can get the ball downfield to receiver Marqise Lee, this might became a familiar scenario.
A defense that intercepted four passes in the season-opening victory over Hawaii intercepted two more Saturday and did not give up a touchdown.
The Trojans also pressured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday into a fumble and followed up last week's seven-sack performance with four more.
A Washington State offense that generated 464 yards last week against Auburn was held to 222 by the Trojans, just seven rushing.
But Lee, the Biletnikoff Award winner, caught seven passes for only 27 yards against a defense that dropped eight players into coverage.
“We’re trying to get the passing game situated before we try to go vertical,” Lee said. “Try to get the little things before we try to go for the big things.”
Tailback Tre Madden was about the only offensive bright spot, the sophomore following up his 109-yard effort against Hawaii with 151 yards in 32 carries against Washington State. Several of Madden's gains came out of the wildcat formation.
Madden, however, was in no mood to celebrate.
“Any time we put only seven points on the board, it’s pretty disappointing,” he said. “To come away with a loss, it doesn’t feel too good.”
Meantime, USC's quarterback situation remains unsettled.
Kessler started for the second consecutive game but was not given much of an opportunity to throw the ball downfield. He ran for a four-yard touchdown, but completed only eight of 13 passes for 41 yards and had one pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Wittek played the second half, completing three of eight passes for 13 yards, with an interception.
The score was tied, 7-7, after two quarters that featured fans booing Kiffin's play-calling multiple times, most vociferously when Kiffin trotted up the Coliseum tunnel after a television interview.
USC had been outgained, 126 yards to 73, and had not converted any of its six third-down opportunities. Kessler ran for his touchdown in the second quarter, but he also had a late pass intercepted by Horton, who returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Wittek replaced Kessler to start the second half and, with the help of a personal-foul penalty against Washington State, moved the Trojans to the Cougars 15-yard line. But Washington State blocked Andre Heidari's field-goal attempt.
On the Trojans' next possession, they moved from their 44 to Washington State's 21 on five runs by Madden. But Wittek was sacked on first down and Heidari missed a 43-yard attempt.
The defense gave the offense a fourth-quarter opportunity when Devon Kennard batted down a pass, cornerback Torin Harris broke up another and linebacker Morgan Breslin sacked Halliday.
But the Trojans went three and out.
That set the stage for Washington State, which moved to USC's 30-yard line when receiver Dom Williams caught a pass and slipped defenders for a 49-yard gain.
“Despite how we played, I think that’s going to haunt most of the defense because we missed a couple tackles and gave them an opportunity to get in field-goal range,” Kennard said.
Furney's 41-yard field goal gave the Cougars a 10-7 lead with just more than three minutes left.
Horton's interception of a pass intended for freshman receiver Darreus Rogers ended the Trojans' chance to tie or win the game.
Halliday completed 26 of 38 passes for 215 yards for Washington State, which rebounded from last week's defeat at Auburn.
“In the second half, we truly believed we were going to win,” Washington State Coach Mike Leach said. “And that accelerated in the third and fourth quarter. Our composure and confidence rose in the fourth quarter.”
Kessler looked more relaxed than in his first start at Hawaii, but he seemingly was not allowed to throw downfield.
The Trojans managed the 7-7 tie at the break, thanks to a defense that stopped several Washington State threats.
After exchanging possessions, Halliday looked sharp, completing passes to Brett Bartolone, Kristoff Williams and Isiah Myers as Washington State moved from its 17-yard line to USC's nine.
USC linebacker Lamar Dawson pressured Halliday into an incomplete pass on first down and Halliday misfired again on the next play.
On third down, Halliday threw a pass intended for Williams in the middle of the end zone, but Harris stepped in front of the receiver for his second career interception.
The Trojans, however, could not capitalize.
Early in the second quarter, the defense came up big again.
On first down at the Trojans' 43, senior linebacker Breslin sacked Halliday for an eight-yard loss. On the next play, tackle George Uko sacked Halliday and forced him to fumble. Kennard picked up the ball and returned it 14 yards, setting up Kessler's four-yard bootleg for a touchdown with 9:59 left in the second quarter.
Safety Dion Bailey's second interception in as many games gave the Trojans another opportunity with just more than three minutes remaining, but the Trojans went three and out.
USC got the ball back with just more than a minute remaining, a running play and incomplete pass once again spurring boos.
A holding penalty against Washington State gave USC a first down at the Cougars' 33.
Kessler passed to the left flat for Nelson Agholor, but Horton stepped in front of the receiver and raced to a tying touchdown.
The Trojans left the field to a cascade of boos directed at Kiffin.
Twitter: @latimeskleinCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun