Aggie Offense A Tough One To Slow Down

Auburn's defense faces a tough challenge against the high-flying Texas A&M Aggies this weekend.

Auburn, Ala.--Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has seen plenty of football in his years on the sidelines in college football, but rarely has he faced an offense like the one he and the Auburn Tigers will see on Saturday in College Station.

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M is averaging an insane 47.8 points and 586.5 yards of total offense per game this season.

With running backs Ben Malena and Trey Williams both very capable of putting up big numbers on the ground and massive wide receiver Mike Evans a load on the perimeter, Manziel is far from the only weapon for the Aggies this season. Throw in one of the top offensive line products in the country in tackle Jake Matthews and you have a group that can match up with anyone, Johnson pointed out.

"They don't have a soft spot," Auburn's defensive coordinator said. "They've got great receivers. They've got two NFL-looking tight ends that don't even get on the field but about 10-12 snaps a game.

"Obviously, their quarterback is what makes them dynamic, but they would be a really good football team even if he wasn't on the field. They have got a really good offensive line, the running backs, they've got depth, they've got rotation and they're all good running backs. They catch the ball well, they run the ball well and they pass protect well.

"Obviously, Manziel is the most dynamic play in the country right now as far as with the ball in his hands. At the same time, they have got great players around him and that's what makes it so hard. There are a lot of football teams putting up big numbers that do things differently than they do and it boils down to having really good players in a system that the coach knows and knows how to operate and it's very difficult to slow them down."

Auburn will depend on a defense that has improved by leaps and bounds in 2013 to try to slow down Manziel and company. Cutting the scoring defense from 26.5 points through six games last season to 18.8 this year is just one of the many areas the Tigers have changed.

One of the keys for the season has been third down defense. Allowing the opposition to convert just 33 percent of the time on third down, Auburn has allowed just three of 23 conversion attempts in the fourth quarter through six games.

Dee Ford leads Auburn with three sacks in just four games played this season.

Even with the improvement the Tigers have made, it will still be almost an impossible task to shut down the Aggies because of the talents of Manziel and his teammates as well as the pace at which they do things.

Normally when you go into a game the goal is to take away one part of a team's attack and force them to be one-dimensional. That is usually the running game as everything an offense does normally feeds off the ability to grind out yards on the ground. Johnson said against this week's opponent he is not sure it matters what they do away with because the Aggies can still hurt defenses and do it quickly.

"They're so balanced, if you try to take one element away, I really think the other element is going to beat you just as bad," he said. "What you have to do, anytime you have a team like them that has good players at every spot, you have to get it out of your mind that you're going to stop them. You have to disrupt them. You have to slow them down. You have to get some takeaways. You have to play really good in the red zone.

"When the spread offenses came along, I was talking to a coach that ran it, and he wanted to know what he should be evaluating his defensive coordinator on, and I said, 'Well, as long as you're going to run that type of offense, you better evaluate it on takeaways, red zone defense and explosive gains. In other words, eliminating big plays because they're never going to stop anybody as long as you keep running that offense because there's no physicality on the other side. So the problem with these offenses is when you get great players in them, it's like the Wwshbones of the 70's that used to put up 70 points, you can't stop them.

"You've got to find a way to disrupt them. You've got to take away the explosive plays, you've got to get a negative yardage play and have a way to get off the field the next play. You've got to get a turnover. You've got to play great down in the red zone. That's the only way you're going to manage the points."

No. 24 Auburn and seventh-ranked Texas A&M will face off at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Kyle Field. The game can be seen nationally on CBS.

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