If Silas Redd makes his season debut and Marqise Lee can clean up a few mistakes, it might be easier for Southern California to survive another game until a clear No. 1 quarterback emerges.
The No. 25 Trojans are hoping to have Redd - their leading rusher last season - back on the field Saturday night when they look for their ninth straight win over visiting Washington State in their Pac-12 opener.
After missing the end of spring workouts and parts of the summer with a knee injury, Redd sat out a season-opening 30-13 victory at Hawaii last Thursday. The senior running back reportedly underwent a minor medical procedure on the knee recently, but was expected to return to the field this week.
Redd, who transferred from Penn State before last season, rushed for a team-best 905 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012.
Should Redd be unable to play, Tre Madden and Justin Davis appear more than capable of carrying the load after combining for 183 yards and a touchdown against the Rainbow Warriors. The Trojans ran the ball 45 times, their most attempts since finishing with 46 at Arizona on Nov. 13, 2010.
They may also be able to find some holes against a Washington State defense that allowed 297 yards on 45 carries in a 31-24 loss at Auburn on Saturday.
USC seems likely to lean on its ground attack again this week as neither Cody Kessler nor Max Wittek has stepped up as the clear successor at quarterback to the departed Matt Barkley.
Kessler started the opener and completed 10 of 19 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and interception. Wittek entered early in the third quarter and went 5 for 10 for 77 yards.
Coach Lane Kiffin said there’s not an obvious No. 1 at this point and he’ll need more time to evaluate the quarterbacks before deciding which passer gives his team the best chance to win.
“I was hoping that a long time ago it would be settled, but that’s not my job to just do what makes me feel good,” Kiffin said. “I’ve got to make sure that I’m doing what’s in the best interest of the team.”
Kiffin’s QB tandem has already made a habit of finding Lee, who’s looking to follow up his Pac-12 offensive player of the year effort with a similar performance in 2013.
Lee had eight catches for 104 yards against Hawaii, though he didn’t help the dueling quarterbacks with a couple of key drops. He also lost a fumble in USC territory while returning a punt.
“He’s probably three drops from having a pretty big day,” Kiffin said.
After finishing with four interceptions and seven sacks against Hawaii’s Taylor Graham, the Trojans will attempt to similarly rattle the Cougars’ Connor Halliday. The senior went 35 for 65 for 344 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions last week - one of which came in the end zone with less than five minutes remaining.
“The biggest thing that plagued us was turnovers,” coach Mike Leach said. “I am really proud of our effort, I thought we had great effort. We just need to polish up and be sharper.”
The Cougars (0-1), who got 14 tackles from safety Deone Bucannon, have lost by an average of 32.7 points during their eight-game skid in this series. They’ll face USC for the first time since a 50-16 loss in 2010 and make their first trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum since a 27-6 defeat in 2009.
Washington State has dropped 20 straight to ranked opponents.