In his second season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator working for Gus Malzahn, Johnson has even more experience coordinating the defense for South Carolina’s head coach, Steve Spurrier.
“From a management style they were very different in their structure, but the one thing they have in common is both of them...I don’t know if the right word is invented, but they invented their offense,” Johnson said.
“That offense wasn’t borrowed from this guy and that guy, and this job I had four years ago and another guy that taught me how to do this.
“Both of them took an offense that they saw as a vision and they both have such command for it because they know exactly what they want to do when you do something on defense,” Johnson said.
“When I used to coach against Coach Spurrier you couldn’t make halftime adjustments or bench adjustments,” Johnson said. “You better get it adjusted the next play because if you did something, or took something away, it wasn’t going to take him another series or halftime adjustment to get you.
“He knows his offense,” Johnson points out. “He knows when to pull the trigger and if you take something away he knows how you did it and he knows what he is doing to do to hurt that. Those are the two things both of them do. They have a complete command of their offensive systems because they invented them.”
Ellis Johnson is shown at practice while coaching at South Carolina.
The last time the Tigers and Gamecocks met was a 16-13 Auburn win in Columbia in 2011. Johnson was defensive coordinator for the Gamecocks that year.
In that contest Auburn ran 92 plays, but struggled to get in the end zone with two touchdowns. The Tigers finished the game with 358 yards of total offense on a very windy day at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks, who were ranked No. 10 nationally for that matchup, managed to gain just 289 yards vs. the Tigers, who came up with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Auburn leads the infrequently played series 9-1-1 that will resume at 6:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday with TV coverage on the SEC Network.
Johnson worked for Spurrier until the 2012 season when the defensive coordinator accepted an offer to be head coach at Southern Miss, where he stayed for just one season before being hired by Malzahn. Johnson said he enjoyed his time in Columbia on Spurrier’s staff.
“That is my home,” he said. “I grew up about 25 miles away and my wife grew up there. Our relatives are all still there.”
Johnson said that he wouldn’t have left Columbia if he wasn’t intrigued about the opportunity to run his own program and noted he was “very happy” at South Carolina.
Commenting on Spurrier and living in Columbia, Johnson said, “He is a great man, great coach. It’s a great place to live, two hours from the beach, two hours from the mountains and about 20 minutes from grandma. It wasn't an easy trip when I pulled them (his family) out of there. My wife will never let me forget it.”
Talking about coaching against people he knows well, Auburn’s defensive coordinator said, “It's harder for me. I just think it's harder to play against close associates, your friends, but 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.”
Watch Crazy One-Handed Catch!