AU Linebacker Expects a Physical Game

Sophomore middle linebacker Merrill Johnson comments on this week's Auburn football game vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Auburn, Ala.--After spending a significant portion of last week's football game watching from the sideline, starting middle linebacker Merrill Johnson is expected to play a more prominent role in Auburn's SEC West showdown vs. Arkansas.

With Auburn playing much of the South Carolina game in alignments with five or six defensive backs on the field, the middle linebacker didn't see much action. Against an Arkansas team that leads the SEC in rushing and has a talented sophomore (Darren McFadden) leading the way, Johnson will be called on to keep the tailback under control.

"We just have to do what we have to do to win," Johnson says of his role as a part-time player in Auburn's 24-17 victory at South Carolina. "This week we expect Arkansas to come and try to run the ball so we are going to hunker down and try to take care of business. I am excited about them coming in and thinking they are going to run on us."

Johnson will come into Saturday's game tied with David Irons as Auburn's second-leading tackler with 23 stops, four behind senior linebacker Will Herring.

The Auburn sophomore says he is impressed with McFadden, who joins Auburn's Kenny Irons as the only two SEC players who are averaging more than 100 yards rushing per game. "He's a great tailback," Johnson says. "Our defense is very fast and we are going to swarm to the football and go out there and have fun."

Merrill Johnson talks with defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at practice.

Johnson notes that McFadden's backup, Felix Jones, is talented, too, and there are other Arkansas backs who are impressive. "They have quite few nice running backs," he says.

With a true freshman quarterback making just his second start, Johnson says he figures that Mitch Mustain will be handing off the football most of the time when the Tigers and Razorbacks square off on Saturday.

With Arkansas 2-0 in the SEC and Auburn 3-0 in the conference, Johnson says he and his teammates are aware of the importance of Saturday's game that will kick off shortly after 11 a.m. "That makes it exciting," he says. "To be the best you have to beat the best. They are going to come in here all high and it is going to be a dogfight.

"Being physical is what Auburn defense is all about so we are excited about this week's game," the linebacker adds. "We love to go out there and run around, hit people and having fun."

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