Spencer Johnson On The LSU Challenge

Sophomore defensive tackle Spencer Johnson discusses his football team and its chances to return to the SEC Championship Game.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's defense has the same objective heading into every game it plays--stop the run. This Saturday vs. LSU will be no different as the Tigers will try to shut down talented LSU running back LaBrandon Toefield who leads all Southeastern Conference rushers with 18 touchdowns and is second in yardage with 854.

The Bayou Bengals are 5-0 when Toefield has rushed for more than 100 yards this season.

Spencer Johnson lines up vs. the Gators.

"They have a real good running back in Toefield and a real good offensive line," AU defensive tackle Spencer Johnson says. "We just have to go out and execute what we've been practicing this week, run to the ball and make tackles. We didn't do that very well vs. Alabama and that's something we have to work on and do better."

Auburn actually did a pathetic job in shutting down the Alabama running game, allowing a season-high 357 rushing yards in its 31-7 loss to the Tide. In fact, if you look at Auburn's three losses this season, the defense has given up more than 200 rushing yards in each one. And in the team's seven victories only one team, Vanderbilt, outrushed the Tigers. The Commodores had 188 yards to the Tigers' 146 in a 24-21 Auburn victory.

If the Tigers want to escape Baton Rouge with their second-consecutive trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, then the AU defense will have to return to its form from the Florida game when it gave up just 16 yards rushing in its 23-20 upset over the top-ranked Gators. That upset victory helped convince the Auburn defense that it matters little how effective your passing game is if you can shut down the opposing team's running game.

The pass-happy Gators, who are still leading the country in passing, was the best group for a young AU defense to make that theory a reality against as it will face an also impressive LSU passing attack on Saturday. "We proved that against Florida," Johnson says. "They came in and were supposed to be a great passing team, but if you stop the run, they only have one thing to rely on and that is the pass."

Keeping Toefield in check will be a huge challenge for the Tigers, but if they are able to do that, their job won't get any easier. The AU defense will then have to turn most of its attention to LSU's other offensive weapons.

The Tigers were able to fluster Florida quarterback Rex Grossman the entire game and the defensive front seven put consistent pressure on the Gator signal caller that has not been matched the entire season. The pressure forced Grossman into hurried passes and bad decision-making that resulted in a season-high four interceptions for one of the front runners in the Heisman Trophy race.

Johnson has battled through a series of nagging injuries this year, including problems with both knees.

Matching the intensity from the Florida game is a must for the defensive front or LSU quarterback Rohan Davey will have a field day pitching and catching with his standout receivers Josh Reed and Michael Clayton. Reed and Clayton are the nation's best receiving duo averaging 210 yards a game and the two have combined for 120 catches, 2,171 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reed is one of the three finalist for the Biletnikoff Award which goes to the nation's top receiver. He has already set an SEC record for receiving yards in a season with 1,494. His 19 catches and 293 receiving yards vs. Alabama earlier this season are both SEC single-game records. Clayton has 40 catches for 667 yards and six touchdowns.

Johnson says how the defensive line performs Saturday is going to be a key. "Rohan Davey is a great quarterback," he adds. "He's a big guy and we're going to have to hit him and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket because he has a strong arm and completes a lot of his passes. It's going to be important to get a good pass rush on him and make him make passes he doesn't want to make."

The fifth-year senior is the first LSU quarterback to reach 3,000 yards in a season, eclipsing that mark last week vs. Arkansas. He owns the LSU single-game passing record when he tossed for 529 yards in a 35-21 win over Alabama in November.

Davey has also shown the ability to make plays on the fly which is a concern for Johnson, but is yet another thing the AU defense was able to keep from happening in the Florida game. His season stats are as impressive as anyone in the league not named Grossman. He is 192-313 for 3,018 yards. He has 17 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions.

"The main thing with that to is get him down when we have the chance and stop him before he gets started," the six-foot-three, 273-pounder notes. "He's a big strong guy and is tough to get down, but we'll have to so he doesn't have a chance to make the big plays throwing to Josh Reed and the other receivers."

Intensity shouldn't be lacking on either sideline this Saturday as LSU will try to get to Atlanta for the first time since the conference went to a championship game format and the visitors will try to accomplish what few people thought they could at the beginning of the season and that is repeat as outright champions of the SEC West.

"We all know what is on the line, a championship," Johnson says. "That is why we come to college and play football--to go out and compete against a good team."

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