- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has seen Gus Malzahn’s offense from the other side.
Now, Johnson and Malzahn are on the same side; the same team, anyway.
And the biggest misnomer going when it comes to Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense, according to Johnson, is that it’s some gimmicky spread offense.
Johnson has been reminded this spring that Malzahn believes in being physical and believes in running the football. Everything he does offensively, he likes to do it fast, really at warp speed.
But there’s a lot more power to Malzahn’s offense than there is finesse.
“The first couple of times I ever coached against him, I thought it was going to be one of these fast-paced, dink-and-dunk offenses,” said Johnson, who faced Auburn and Malzahn three times (twice in 2010) when Johnson was the defensive coordinator at South Carolina.
“Now, he had Cam Newton [in 2010], and that was a problem in itself. But even the next year when the talent dropped off some and they couldn’t run the quarterback, you started to figure out what he is. He’s a hard-nosed, physical running-game guy and then throws play-action.
“He’s not what most people look at and say, ‘Spread.’”
When Malzahn had Newton in 2010, the Tigers averaged 284.8 rushing yards per game to lead the SEC. Newton and running back Michael Dyer both rushed for 1,000 yards that season, and running back Onterio McCalebb had 810 yards.
In 2011, Malzahn’s final season as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, the Tigers still finished fourth in the SEC in rushing with an average of 182.3 yards per game.
“There are so many different spreads, and [Malzahn] is not a horizontal throwing game, zone-read guy,” Johnson said. “He runs the power and the counter power. Seventy-five percent of his running game is a two-back running game, and then he throws the ball vertically off play-action.
“You’ve got the option, the element of power, and then you’ve got the pace and the tempo. That’s what I think really makes it hard to get ready for in college football today.”