Auburn's Justin Garrett returns an interception against San Jose State
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. ― Justin Garrett is a linebacker by trade these days, but he still remembers what to do with a football in his hands.
The former high school wide receiver and tight end in a Wing-T offense returned an interception 11 yards to set up an easy Auburn score in the Tigers' 35-21 win over San Jose State on Saturday in a big-play replay of his 82-yard fumble scoop and run for a touchdown in a season-opening win over Louisville.
Garrett's play Saturday was part of an opportunistic Auburn defense that created four turnovers that set up two touchdown drives.
"The game could have been closer if we didn't get all those turnovers," Garrett said. "You never know what can happen. We always preach get the ball out."
Garrett is part of an evolving Auburn defense that starts true freshmen and mixes and matches veterans. Saturday, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy shifted over to the Buck position that once belonged to the injured Carl Lawson. McKinzy had Auburn's only sack. The Buck is a hybrid linebacker, and shifting McKinzy there allowed defensive coordinator Will Muschamp more flexibility with his pass rush.
"Cass is an excellent pass rusher, and him just being out there to get the quarterback hurries and flush the pocket" is a plus, Garrett said. "All the things he can do to play inside linebacker and play on the outside, he's a talented football player."
McKinzy says he's not done at linebacker, but is happy to get on the field at a different position.
"I'm helping the team. In the pass rush, I'm just trying to play my part," he said.
McKinzy's move fits into Muschamp's plan to get his best players on the field, regardless of the position.
“That is something that Will worked on during the week and he will evaluate how he did," said coach Gus Malzahn. "I just felt like we need a little extra right there since we didn’t have Carl Lawson."
Linebacker Kris Frost said McKinzy "has all the right traits of a Buck or a linebacker. He's extremely intelligent. His ability to play multiple positions like that is great. I know it's amazing for the team. We can move him around."
McKinzy didn't get one of the four turnovers. But Garrett did, as did Carlton Davis, with a late interception; and so did Dontavius Russell and Jonathan Jones, who recovered fumbles.
"We just have to build on that," McKinzy said.
Rudy Ford didn't get a turnover, but he had a game-high 14 tackles. Frost had 12.
Auburn's defense won't sit on its four turnovers during the upcoming open date.
"There's always room for improvement. Coach Muschamp always says, 'good plays always speak for themselves.' We have to figure out how to correct the bad plays," Garrett said.
"We still have some stuff we need to patch up," Frost said. "The effort was there, just running to the ball each and every play. Swarming, we did a great job of that, and tackling as well."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine