FAYETTEVILLE — Taiwan Johnson is an undersized nose guard.

FAYETTEVILLE — Taiwan Johnson is an undersized nose guard.


Nothing will change that fact as the sophomore works with Arkansas’ starting defensive line. Johnson is 6-foot-2, 255 pounds which is far from the norm in a conference that boasts a plethora of gifted 300-plus pound pro prospects.


But the Razorbacks believe the first two weeks of the season has proven there’s another important fact to consider about Johnson. He knows how to make plays.


"You don’t expect a player like that because he is undersized," Arkansas safety Alan Turner said. "But he’s a really good player. His technique is just great. … He’s always around the ball and always 110 percent effort and it shows."


Johnson has made an early impact on Arkansas’ defensive front after being moved to the tilted nose guard position early in preseason camp. He collected 3 tackles for losses and 2 ½ sacks in Arkansas’ 73-7 win against Nicholls State and enters Saturday’s game at Texas Tech tied for second in the NCAA in sacks (3 ½).


There, Johnson will serve as the anchor of Arkansas’ defensive line once again as the Razorbacks search for their biggest win under Bret Bielema. Johnson, who is from Manvel, Texas, said he’s looking forward to the next opportunity to produce after settling into his new role with the Arkansas defense.


"It’s been fun playing a new position and having a chance to make an impact on the team," Johnson said. "It was going to be a challenge getting to learn a new position moving to a tilt nose. But I took it head on and I’m trying to do my best."


Arkansas made the move early in preseason camp, bumping Johnson up to the first-team defense in place of junior DeMarcus Hodge. The Razorbacks paired Johnson with sophomore Darius Philon, also undersized at 6-foot-2, 272 pounds. But Arkansas believed Johnson could thrive in a technique that lines him up in the gap between the center and guard, tilting toward the center.


The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s are credited for first implementing the technique. It’s one the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used last season, too, while current defensive coordinator Robb Smith was on staff.


It fits the strength of smaller, quicker interior lineman like Johnson. But Arkansas didn’t plan on moving Johnson over to play the tilted technique until camp.


"Whether you believe me or not, I really kind of stay out of those personnel things until I see something that I glowingly know can help us," Bielema said. "After that first scrimmage I just basically said we’re moving Taiwan from the 3 to a tilt nose and we’re going to let him play with speed in there and be active. He has really."


Johnson has started both games alongside Philon. He recorded his first sack at Auburn, then followed it up with the big performance against outmanned Nichols State. Johnson and Philon have combined for five of Arkansas’ seven sacks so far.


Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest said Johnson has been effective because he’s an "attention to detail guy." Smith said Johnson does "all the little things right."


"No. 1 he plays with a great motor," Smith said. "He’s a guy that swarms to the football on every play. He understands leverage. His hands are always in the right place. His pad level is always in the right place. He plays hard and does the things Coach Segrest tells him to do. That will take you a long way in the game of football."


Bielema said Johnson’s strength is another factor. He may not be the biggest nose guard in the SEC, but has become one of the strongest Razorbacks.


"The thing I didn’t realize was how strong he is," Bielema said. "I mean, I heard the strength coaches right away talk about how, you know, he might not be numbers strong as far as benching this amount of weight and doing all this, but when he’s got his hands on you he’s a very physical player. You saw that on Saturday and it really even showed up in the Auburn game a little bit."


Arkansas will need another solid performance from Johnson and the rest of the defensive front to beat Texas Tech on Saturday.


The Red Raiders are averaging 570 yards a game, getting most of their production through the air in a system designed to get the ball out of quarterback Davis Webb’s hands quickly. Texas Tech has not allowed a sack in two games — which has covered 83 passing attempts — and has throwing for 730 yards in two games.


But Texas Tech has had success running the ball as well, averaging 205 yards a game. So Johnson said Arkansas will be challenged. But the Hogs are ready.


"I think we match well," Johnson said. "I think if we use the techniques that we’ve been taught by coach, then we can get in the backfield and we can hopefully make some plays and slow their offense down."


Johnson has been successful so far this season.


He’s an undersized nose guard, but has become a key part of Arkansas’ defense.


"Every play just giving it all I’ve got and running to the ball and making sure I take care of what I’ve got to take care of on the field," Johnson said about his early success. "Make sure I’m in my gap and make sure I’m helping the team."