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Auburn's 'very average' linebackers need to improve

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Arkansas' Rawleigh Williams III, center, attempts to break through the grip of the Auburn's defense during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Fayetteville, Ark.
Arkansas' Rawleigh Williams III, center, attempts to break through the grip of the Auburn's defense during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Fayetteville, Ark. AP Photo

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp expressed more than a hint of exasperation discussing the performance of his linebacker corps Sunday night.

After reviewing the film of the Tigers' 54-46 loss to Arkansas, Muschamp described their collective play as “very average.”

“We need to play better and we need to get more production,” Muschamp said. “That’s the bottom line.”

The Tigers have gone with a rotation at linebacker centered around Kris Frost, Justin Garrett and Tre Williams. Muschamp moved linebacker Cassanova McKinzy to an edge rusher on the defensive line prior to the game against San Jose State.

Frost and Garrett both had interceptions in recent weeks, but the experienced seniors – they have played in a combined 81 games – didn’t receive much praise for how they played Saturday.

Muschamp main area of frustration with the position group is their continued struggle with shedding blockers.

“You’re going to get blocked in our league,” Muschamp said. “When you play a two-back run team, there’s going to be a chance that an offensive lineman might actually get on top of you, so you got to play off of it.”

The linebackers have also had issues with missed tackles throughout the season. The most glaring example of that Saturday came on Arkansas’ final possession in regulation.

Frost had a chance to stop Brandon Allen at the line of scrimmage on a third-and-three at Auburn's 20-yard line, but whiffed on the tackle.

Allen isn’t like the many of the dual-threat quarterbacks the Tigers have seen this seen, but it was his second third-down conversion of the game for him on a designed run play.

His first down in the fourth quarter forced Auburn to burn all of its timeouts.

Frost is second on the team with 54 tackles, 18 solo, but only one for a loss. Garrett, who missed one game due to injury, has 15 tackles, seven solo, with 2.5 for a loss.

For a defense Muschamp admits has “miles to go,” the linebackers’ lackluster play is a glaring issue.

“We met with them today and told them the same thing I’ve told them for seven Sundays -- get off a block and make a play,” Muschamp said. “They’re going to block you. You’re going to get blocked; that’s going to happen. Disengage a guy and make a tackle.”

When Muschamp was asked if the issues were correctable at this point in the season, and this late in the seniors' careers, he wasn't optimistic.

“We’re trying to,” Muschamp said. “Doing all we can. Trying to.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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