Improving Pass Rush A Theme For Tigers

Following a bye week Auburn is back on the football practice field as the Tigers return to SEC action this week vs. South Carolina.

Brandon King (above) is getting work as a pass rusher for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson said after Sunday evening’s practice the Tigers are still working on improving their pass rush.

Six games into the football season the Tigers have 12 quarterback sacks for 73 yards. At an average of 2.0 per sacks per game Auburn’s average is better than just four other SEC teams.

“We have tried to work on it,” Johnson said. “We have worked on it quite a bit. What we are doing is we have tried to get some guys that we can sub in there to put some extra speed on the field.

“Some of that has to be situational,” the coach pointed out. “If it’s third and four, third and three, third and five even, if you put the speed on the field sometimes it won’t hold up against a checked run. You have got to have them in a situation either score-wise or down-and-distance where you know you can do it.”

True freshman end Raashed Kennion, who is back from an ankle sprain, is getting work as a pass rush specialist along with senior safety Brandon King, who is one of the quicker players on the defense.

“They are developing,” Johnson pointed out. “I do still think our other package is giving us more variation and more pressure right now. We have tried to work on it. We have got some guys like Kennion and Brandon King, and got them some reps. They are really good edge guys. We have just got to find a time they can get on the field from a situational standpoint.”

Commenting on Kennion, the coach said, “He got banged up last week so it slowed him down a little bit. He didn’t get a full week of practice, but he is coming along good. He is leaning our base defense, but the primary thing we see him for this year is as a role player hoping to get him in pass situation that we can get him in on pass rush.”

Johnson noted that King is also in a learning mode. “We are going to try to get him in there for the opportunity. There is no question the fastest off the edge we got.”

The Tigers practiced three times in the off-week before returning to practice on Sunday evening to work on the game plan for Saturday’s home game vs. South Carolina.

“Physically, we had shorter and longer practices so I think we got a lot of good fundamental work and we also, I think, didn’t overdo it physically,” the coach said of the bye week workouts.

“Our kids needed a break. They got Monday off and after Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they got Friday and Saturday off from a physical standpoint.

“We had a good session today,” Johnson noted. “We went a little bit longer than a regular Sunday. They needed a physical rest and we needed to get a little bit of South Carolina base (plays), and we needed some good crossover, going good on good, and we got all of that done. I think it was a good open week.”

Ellis Johnson is in his second season at Auburn.

Auburn, which is ranked fifth and sixth nationally in the major polls this week, is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. South Carolina is unranked. The Gamecocks are 2-3 in SEC games and 4-3 overall after defeating Furman 41-10 on Saturday.

Johnson is quite familiar with Coach Steve Spurrier’s program after serving as the coach’s defensive coordinator before leaving in 2012 to become head coach at Southern Miss for a year. After that didn’t work out, he got back into the defensive coordinator business when Gus Malzahn hired him for Auburn.

“They are very talented,” Johnson said of the South Carolina offense. “I am very familiar with that side of the ball because a lot of those kids are older. I am not as familiar with the defensive side because they are very young.

“They don’t have a weakness on their offense,” the coach said. “They are good up front, they have a good receiver corps, an excellent tight end group. three running backs who can play for anybody and the quarterback is a fifth-year senior who knows the offense inside-out. He is a coach’s son, a great young man. If you just look at the numbers, offensively they have played extremely well this year.”

The Gamecocks are averaging 265.4 passing yards per game and 185.4 on the ground while also producing 25.1 first downs per game, which is second in the league behind Texas A&M’s 251. “That tells you they are moving the football and they are going to be tough to slow down,” the veteran coach said.

Johnson added, “They have got a player at every position that can make a play. It’s another one of these games where you can’t take away one element and think you have got a shot to win it. They are balanced and we have got to take away a lot of things if we are going to have a chance to slow them down.”

Johnson said it was important for the defense to get work against the No. 1 offense during the off week. One of the team’s most experienced offensive players, wide receiver Quan Bray, agrees.

“We did a lot of that on this bye week and it does help us because when you go good on good you can get to see that,” Bray said.

“A lot of teams and a lot of people don't really do that because people get injured and this and that, but we did and we played smart, practicing like professionals, and I think that really helped us.”

In other news and notes:

*Kickoff for the South Carolina game is 6:30 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network with Brent Musberger doing the play-by-play and Jesse Palmer the analyst.

*The Tigers are Gamecocks have played just 11 times with seven coming since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. Auburn has won each of those games and has nine wins , one loss and one tie vs. the Gamecocks. Auburn’s only loss came by a 16-14 in 1933 at Birmingham.

*Auburn has outscored the Gamecocks 302-160 with a 230-111 advantage since South Carolina joined the SEC.

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