Tidbit surprises Leach about season opener

WASHINGTON STATE COACH Mike Leach is known to go into long monologues about all kinds of topics when speaking with reporters. But the first question of Tuesday morning's Pac-12 football coaches teleconference caught Leach by surprise as he was not aware of an important connection between himself and Auburn, which the Cougars open against at 4 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.

Leach did not know that Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson held the same position in 1997 at Alabama. That season, Leach was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky who helped guide the Wildcats to 40-34 overtime upset. It was the first win in the series for Kentucky, which has a 2-35-1 record against the Crimson Tide, since 1922.

"I felt like we should've won the game in regulation," said Leach, adding that a former Kentucky player who competed on the 1922 team and Pro Football Hall of Fame member George Blanda were in the locker room that day. "We moved the ball awfully well."

Johnson, who was fired after he guided Southern Miss to an 0-12 record last season, now runs a 4-2-5 defense. Leach disagreed with one reporter's assertion that the scheme is significantly different than the one he employed 16 years ago.

"They don't throw a ton of stuff at you," said Leach, adding that Johnson's units played hard and often create turnovers.

On the other side of the ball, the Cougars will have to contain Marshall, who was athletic enough to play defensive back in 2011 at Georgia. Last season, he converted to quarterback for Kansas' Garden City Community College, where he threw 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

"He obviously can do it," Leach said. "He did it at the JC. He's a really athletic guy."

He said coaches and players have studied what Marshall did last season and incorporated that with new coach Gus Malzahn's tendencies as an offensive coordinator and last season when he guided Arkansas State to a 9-3 record.

"Coach Malzahn has a body of work," Leach said.

As for the weather, Leach scoffed at the notion that his players might face a difficult transition with the Southern humidity. Leach said he has followed the weather in Auburn and said it has been similar, and sometimes even cooler, than what the Cougars have practiced in at home. According to www.weather.com, Saturday's temperature in both locations is supposed to be 86 degrees. Both schools are expected to practice in temperatures in the mid to high 80s this week.

Leach also was asked about how his offensive line compares with last season. He noted that several returning players, such as Elliott Bosch and John Fullington have significant experience, while senior Rico Forbes finally is healthy after redshirting in 2011 and then sitting out last season with an undisclosed injury to his leg.

"Improved," Leach said. "A lot of them have played college football before. As inexperienced as we are, we're significantly more experienced [this year]."

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