Sep 8, 2013
Auburn's Jake Holland has the tackle on Julian Jones on Saturday night (John Reed/USA Today)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — It was a matter of style, said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, and Auburn's linebackers found plenty of it Saturday night.
Cassanova McKinzy, Jake Holland and Kris Frost combined for 19 tackles against Arkansas State's run-oriented offense a week after being relegated to a secondary role and five tackles in the opener against pass-happy Washington State.
The linebackers figure to be in line for more stats when they meet a more-traditional Mississippi State offense at 6 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium, though Frost is suspended for the first half after being ejected for targeting against Arkansas State.
Still, Johnson said the linebackers took advantage of their opportunities.
"They were a lot better this week. More productive," Johnson said Sunday. "Of course, it was a different style of game, too."
How so? Auburn played six defensive backs against the Cougars, costing McKinzy so many snaps that the Tigers played both of their linebackers only 18 of 88 plays. They'll be expected to have a more meaningful role going forward, especially in the SEC, and that starts Saturday.
"They didn't have a lot of opportunities," Johnson said. "This game they had some opportunities and we made some opportunities."
Holland took advantage of a lot of his chances.
"I thought he played really well," Johnson said. "He made some what I call 'linebacker plays' where he looked like a linebacker — redirection, tackling properly and fitting the right gaps and having some great pursuit angles.
"I thought his eyes were better. He saw things and reacted quicker."
The linebackers, like much of the defense, were kept fresh.
"I'm rotating them a lot. And, of course, Kris had the ejection so I had to play Jake more than I wanted to. I wanted to keep rotating those guys."
Johnson will give McKinzy some work at Mike linebacker where Holland plays. And he'll "probably" move Anthony Swain inside as well. That's a just-in-case scenario.
Frost hasn't started either game, but he provides depth and playing time. Johnson isn't disputing the fact Frost hit quarterback Adam Kennedy late.
But, Johnson said, "he definitely didn’t try to go head-to-head."
"The biggest thing is he was in man coverage and he should not have left his man because the quarterback was still in trouble. He was running around outside the pocket, but there were linemen in pursuit."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine