Auburn Football: Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 Defense Is a Game-Changer for Tigers

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Auburn Football: Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 Defense Is a Game-Changer for Tigers
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Auburn fans knew they would see a different look out of new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme this season.

They knew it would make the Tigers' defense more flexible. They knew it would provide for more dynamic sets. They knew it would put more pressure on some of the elite SEC quarterbacks coming up on the Tigers' schedule.

But they may not have expected to see such results this early.

The Auburn secondary picked off three passes Saturday night in the Tigers' season-opening win against Washington Statetopping last season's team-wide total of two interceptions in just one game.

Robenson Therezie pulled down two interceptions, while Josh Holsey brought down another.

All three of them were unfamiliar sights to Auburn fans after last season's drought.

Michael Chang/Getty Images

"They're in the frame of mind now, they're not frustrated that they didn't get any (interceptions), they're frustrated that they didn't get more, which is the way you want it," Johnson said on Monday. "I thought sometimes the pressure on the quarterback caused some throws. It all goes hand-in-hand, so I was real proud of them."

Therezie was honored for his performance as the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week. The junior set up the Tigers' first score with his first interception and helped clinch the victory with another pick in the end zone on a Cougars first-and-goal play with less than five minutes to go in the game.

It's fitting enough, too, that Therezie was playing out of the "Star" positionthe crutch of Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme.

The "Star" position, formerly known as the "Spur" during Johnson's stint as defensive coordinator at South Carolina from 2008 to 2011, is a linebacker-safety hybrid and is the key difference between what Auburn fans see in Johnson's system compared to the traditional 4-3 defense that Auburn ran in years past.

Saturday, that extra body playing deep proved to be the difference for the Tigers in their 2013 debut.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Therezie's performance was that he stepped into the starting role as a game-time decision in place of injured starter Justin Garrett.

Garrett has battled a left foot sprain throughout all fall camp. He was spotted in a walking boot during Auburn's Fan Day on August 11.

On Saturday, Garrett was dressed to play and went through warm-ups with the team, but Therezie got the call.

"His foot has been just sort of a strange thing," Johnson said of Garrett. "It'll feel good one day, and all of a sudden he'll turn on it the wrong way and the strain on it comes back in.

"If we'd had to play him, we could have, but he wasn't full-speed probably mentally or physically. So we just felt like Robenson was playing really well."

He was. Therezie's second interception put a stop to the Cougars' best fourth-quarter scoring opportunity.

With the Tigers clinging to a 31-24 lead with fewer than five minutes to play, the Washington State offense marched inside the Auburn red zone, setting up shop with first-and-goal at the Auburn eight-yard line and needing just a touchdown and an extra point to tie the game.

Therezie picked off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday on a fade route near the pylon with 4:16 to play.

"I had to make a big play there," Therezie said post-game Saturday. "We knew as a defense they were going for the end zone right there, and we communicated the right read and I made the play."

Washington State had one more opportunity with the ball, but thanks in part to the Auburn secondary and Therezie, the Cougars never threatened.

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