Running is often an after-thought for Coach Mike Leach's football teams and the second-year head coach for the visiting Cougars is expected to fill the air with passes vs. the Tigers.
"Every offense we see is different," Johnson says. "We will probably see two or three teams this year that are similar to these guys, but they are all unique.
"There is no question about it--he loves to throw the football," Johnson says. "If you allow him to establish to the running back, you're in for a long day.
"You can't just take a pass-defense approach and forget about the run," Johnson notes. "They have an offensive line that is greatly improved. They are good players. I think their running game is going to be more effective this year. It is something you can't ignore."
Coach Mike Leach is shown at preseason practice in at the WSU campus in Pullman.
In 2012, Leach's initial season at Washington State, almost all of his team's offensive production was through the air. WSU's running backs carried the football just 170 times for the entire season, an average of 14.2 runs per contest. With 271 lost yards in quarterback sacks the Cougars averaged a net of just 29.1 rushing yards per contest.
Johnson says that while Auburn and Washington State's offenses both line up in spread formations, what the Tigers do is different from the Cougars' style of play. "There is no question he (Leach) wants to throw the ball more," Auburn's defensive coordinator says. "Gus wants to run the ball more.
"What we have practiced against with our own offense in some respects will prepare us very well for what we are going to see," says Johnson, who adds that the Auburn defense will be familiar lining up against formations with three and four outside receivers.
Johnson is predicting that in year two of Leach's offensive system being installed in Pullman the Cougars will be more effective running the football. "It gets you in a flow where you are running coverages and you are kind of on your heels and then all of the sudden they run that ball up into the box," he says. "If you're not reacting to it properly, fitting your gaps, it can be a big play.
"You almost have to spread your defense out--two deep safeties and man coverage underneath or tight zone coverage," the coordinator adds. "Anytime they get one of your safeties out of the box, sometimes they can outnumber you. It's a chess game. They are very capable of running the ball if you don't play soundly against the run."
Kickoff for the season opener is set for 6 p.m. CDT and the game will be televised nationally in ESPNU.
The Tigers have Monday off from practice and will return to the practice field on Tuesday evening to continue preparations for their PAC-12 opponent. The Tigers and Cougars have met just once previously with Auburn taking a 40-14 victory in the 2006 season opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium.