On Saturday at Razorback Stadium, Johnson will have a chance to make a difference for his Tigers as they take on unbeaten and seventh-ranked Arkansas. For both teams it is a key divisional showdown with each side aspiring to represent the SEC West at the league championship game in Atlanta.
"It was tough sitting on the sideline watching that happen," says Johnson, who was injured going into last year's Arkansas game but tried to play. The defensive tackle only lasted a few snaps before having to call it a day with his knee problem.
Now a senior, Johnson says he will do everything he can to avoid a repeat and snap the two-game Arkansas winning streak in its series with Auburn. "That is a game you try to erase from your memory, but as a football player and being affiliated with Auburn, it is hard to get it out of your memory, especially when you have got another opportunity and chance to go out and redeem yourself and play the same team that did it to you last year."
That loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium was the low point of the 2002 season. "It made us re-evaluate ourselves as a team and as a defense," Johnson remembers. "Everybody did that and came back with a new attitude and we won games after that. It was a good thing for our team because if you can come back after a loss like that, and continue to win games, that really shows something about your team and defense."
This year Arkansas fields a team that is 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC while Auburn is 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the league. After watching video of the Razorbacks, Johnson says this is an impressive opponent starting with junior quarterback Matt Jones and the SEC rushing leader, senior tailback Cedric Cobbs.
"Those two guys are a dynamic duo," Johnson says. "They call their quarterback "Mattman" so they are really tough. He is really versatile guy. He can throw the ball, he can run the ball. Cedric Cobbs, behind the big offensive line, is going to be pretty tough to stop. Shawn Andrews and the rest of the guys up there are so big and physical and they really get after you."
Part of the game, Johnson is expected to have to deal with six-foot-five, 380-pounder Andrews, who will tower over Johnson, who is not exactly a little guy at 6-3, 289 pounds. Andrews is likely to be a first round NFL draft pick in 2004. "He is so big and he moves so well," Johnson says. "He can run block, pass block. He is just a big, good athlete who is physical and aggressive."
Johnson takes down Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen with a tackle last Saturday night in Auburn's 28-21 victory over the Vols.
Johnson will have to counter Andrews with speed, athleticism, experience and toughness. "You know he is aggressive and he is going to get after you," Johnson says. "You have to take it to him before he can get to you. That is the mentality the whole defensive line has got to take in this game--hit them in the mouth before they hit us.
Andrews is the best lineman the Tigers will see this year, according to Auburn coaches. Johnson says that playing him will be a test. "A guy like that you try to stay away from him, but it is going to be impossible," Johnson says. "You just have to really take it to him. You have got to let him know that know he might outweigh me by 100 pounds, but I am going to be in your face all night. If I get a chance to hit you I am going to hit you. A guy like that, you really have to take his aggressiveness away. To be that big and to move that well and to be aggressive as he is, it is pretty tough. But, you can't back down. You just have to go play football."