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Originally published Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 7:36 PM

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Auburn’s defense has old ties for Leach

WSU coach faced Tigers’ defensive coordinator when he was assistant at Kentucky in late 1990s.

The Spokesman Review


Washington State @ Auburn, 4 p.m., ESPNU

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PULLMAN – Mike Leach didn’t remember the last time he coached against Ellis Johnson. Yet he did remember at the same time.

Asked Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches’ teleconference about a 1997 matchup between Kentucky (where Leach was offensive coordinator in 1997 and 1998) and Alabama (where Johnson was defensive coordinator), Leach at first blanked.

“I don’t remember a darn thing,” he said, amused. “I never knew we’d gone against Ellis Johnson. Ellis was at Alabama that year? Son of a gun. I didn’t know that. That’s good to know.”

The game itself sparked fond memories for Leach, because it was Kentucky’s first win over Alabama since 1922, a 40-34 overtime victory that sent the bluegrass state into delirium.

If Leach’s team has a similar offensive output against Johnson’s Auburn defense on Saturday, Washington State might have a crack at proving itself undeserving of being 16-point underdogs in its season opener.

Johnson is in his first year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator after a disastrous one-year tenure as head coach at Southern Mississippi, and his 4-2-5 defensive alignment will be the first challenge of the season for the Cougars’ offense.

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