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Auburn's Ellis Johnson Says His Defense Can Handle Speed of the Game
Ellis Johnson: Auburn's offense is just fine (Todd Van Emst photo)

June 18, 2013

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN -- Ellis Johnson predicts Gus Malzahn's offense will continue to put pressure on opposing defenses this fall. He's coached against it. He knows what it can do. 

But Auburn's new defensive coordinator isn't buying into the notion that Malzahn will have to occasionally slow down his fast-paced offense to allow the Tigers' own defense catch its breath. Johnson says Malzahn really runs a physical offense that can churn out first downs and eat up the clock, and that'll give his defense time to rest. 

"I'm not overly concerned about it -- having coached against it and having worked with it in the spring," Johnson said. "This isn't your typical chuck-and-duck fast-operation offense. It's a running, play-action offense. The speed of operation between plays can be controlled. He can make you think he's going faster than he is. 

"The second thing is the base running game is a physical running game, and I think that produces first downs. If you produce first downs, it doesn't matter how fast you operate. You're not going to put that stress back on your defense. Some of the spread teams run the ball one out of four plays, and they drop a couple of balls, and they run 28 seconds off the game clock and they don't run three minutes off the real clock. If you put your defense under that situation, you're going to have problems. That's happened to a lot of teams. You see a lot of those 48-44 games, it's just like NBA basketball running around putting up 3-pointers. There's no defense. I don't look at our offense that way. I think it's a very physical offense." 

Still, the offense offers so many twists that it can drive defensive coordinators crazy. 

"The offense has power, the offense has option, the offense has play-action deep shots, it has very good formations, deception and movement; and has that speed of operation," Johnson said. "I've named about everything that can give you a fit on Saturday as a defensive coordinator." 

The bonus: Johnson's defense will see just about every aspect of an offense against Malzahn's multi-faceted practices. 

"If you get ready for an option offense, and your offense never runs it in practice, it's hard to get ready for it," Johnson said. "It's like the speed-up operation. If you never see it in practice and then all of a sudden it blows up on you during a game week, they can't handle it. That part of it I like: It has all those elements that tests you every day." 

Having to prepare for such offenses, or at least the spread element, has been a transition for Johnson. He says 40 percent of teams "or more" are spread teams now. 

"I feel like a good reference point is my last eight years in the league at Mississippi State and South Carolina," Johnson said. "My last year at Mississippi State (2007) the only team we saw was West Virginia, and they were really good at it. That's when we got our wake-up call. We could not continue to play with the verbiage and the signal system with the schemes we had. We could not match up in space, we could not get our calls in and out, we were getting stuck in defenses. That's when we started gradually changing. By the time I left South Carolina (2011), I'd say at least half of our schedule were at least no-huddle. Only about 30 percent of the teams we play now get in a huddle on every snap."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer for Follow Goldberg on Twitter:



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