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Auburn's Ellis Johnson knows the South Carolina way
Oct. 25, 2014

Auburn's Ellis Johnson will be matching wits against Steve Spurrier in Jordan-Hare

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Ellis Johnson speaks fondly of his time at South Carolina, but he's afraid his inside knowledge of the Gamecocks is quite limited now.

He'll search the memory banks, just in case, when Auburn faces South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium when he, as the Tigers' defensive coordinator, meets his former employer in the middle of another SEC race.

There are some South Carolina players still around from his tenure, and his recruiting, with the Gamecocks from 2008-11. And, certainly, Johnson is familiar with the offense of coach Steve Spurrier.

Counterpoint: Spurrier knows Johnson as well.

"I can’t speak for Coach Spurrier, but what you do is personnel driven," Johnson said. "I don’t know if they’re a lot like what it was when I was over there. I know we do some of the same things, teach some of the same things, run some of the same fronts, some of the same coverages. But I would bet that we’re a little bit different than we were then and they’re using a lot of formations and stuff that we had not yet seen.

"Formation adjustments are going to be critical. They have so much movement, shifting and motioning, unbalanced and those types of things. That’s going to be the biggest key."

Auburn, coming off a bye week, is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. South Carolina is 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the league. 

Some of the things Auburn will be trying to do: Win its 301st SEC game, extend the nation's second-longest home winning streak to 14, improve to 10-1-1 all-time against South Carolina… and show the defense is up to the challenge. 

Opponents are averaging only 5.7 points in the second half of Auburn games.

South Carolina has been all over the place, beating Georgia, losing to Texas A&M; outscoring Vanderbilt, losing to Missouri and Kentucky. Auburn, coming off its only loss, at Mississippi State on Oct. 11, has beaten two Top 25 teams, and has three more to go against teams currently ranked in the top nine.

South Carolina is one of six SEC teams averaging at least 450 yards per game and is averaging a school-record 35.1 points per game.

"They don’t have a weakness on offense," Johnson said. "They’re good upfront, they’re a good receiver corps, excellent tight end grouping, three running backs that can play for anybody and the quarterback is a fifth-year guy who knows the offense in-and-out.

"If you just look at the numbers offensively, they have played extremely well this year."

South Carolina will lean on running back Mike Davis, who has rushed for 662 yards. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson will fill in.

"Two things have happened," said Johnson, "No. 1, they’ve got two guys that can come in and spell him, Wilds is a really good player and Shon. I recruited both of those kids a little bit. They’re both good players, they trust them and get them in critical situations."

Johnson was there when fifth-year quarterback Dylan Thompson was there, too.

"He knows what Coach Spurrier wants to do with the football, where the read is and so forth in the passing game and in the running game as far as any checks and things. Most of them are off the sideline but he knows when they're in a bad play and he knows when to look for help and check himself. I think it's a big element to why they're so productive," Johnson said.

And as far as Johnson's South Carolina connections? "Yeah, that's my home. I grew up about 25 miles (away), my wife grew up there. Our relatives are all still there."

But SEC football is a business, and Johnson has been just about everywhere in it.

"After 40 years it's getting where I can't find a team that doesn't have one of my good friends on it, so I guess I'm getting used to it," he said. "It's a little bit more familiar than some of the other programs. I've got really close friends at Alabama, Mississippi State and everywhere else we've worked together. It's always kind of hard, but it's fun, it's competitive, there's no live bullets and everyone can go home alive after the game. Not quite as bad as the Civil War was, I guess."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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