Auburn football: Linebackers brush fan criticism aside, focus squarely on 'what our coaches say'

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 11, 2013 

In this file photo from this year's LSU game, Auburn liebackers Jake Holland (5) and Cassanova McKinzy (8) sack Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson felt the linebackers left too many tackles on the field in Saturday's game, another criticism of the much-maligned unit this season.

TODD J. VAN EMST

AUBURN, Ala. — If you ask Ellis Johnson, the performance of his linebackers last Saturday was misleading.

Yes, Cassanova McKinzy had a game-high 10 tackles in Auburn’s 55-23 victory. And yes, the trio of Kris Frost, Jake Holland and Anthony Swain added eight more.

What didn’t show in the stat sheet, Johnson said, was how many other tackles they could have added to their total. He ticked off the number of missed opportunities: three whiffs by Frost, two by Holland and one by Swain.

Simply, Auburn’s defensive coordinator didn’t think they played all that well.

“I thought it was all very up and down and inconsistent,” he said. “When you totaled up the production, it made a lot of tackles but I thought we left a lot of plays on the field that we could have made.”

Even McKinzy’s double-digit takedown tally left something to be desired.

“(There were) a couple of different formations that confused him a little bit,” Johnson said. “I thought he was a little bit inconsistent on his base run fits, but he really made a lot of plays.”

The critique from Johnson is far from the only negativity surrounding the unit. The linebackers have been a lightning rod for fan criticism all season. Auburn supporters haven't been afraid to let Gus Malzahn know it, either, as the head coach has fielded questions from irritated fans during his weekly call-in radio program.

While aware of fans’ frustrations, Frost says neither he nor any of the other linebackers pay any attention to it.

“It's really all about what our coaches say, and that's what really matters. We just take it to heart because we want to do really well,” he said. “It just pushes us to work even harder. We've been working very hard all season, and we've come up and made big plays when it was time to make big plays, but now we need to know that we have to play really sound defense to finish out the season the way we want to finish it.”

In that area at least, Frost acknowledged it’s been a bit harder to drown out all the noise.

Knowing the possibilities that are in front of the Tigers should they win out can be difficult to ignore.

“When you have fans that are constantly talking about it and stuff, it can kind of creep in,” Frost said. “But our coaches have done such a good job of reminding us of what's really important, reminding us of the task at hand and what we have to accomplish — that (makes) it easy for us. They really show us what's important.”

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