Cassanova McKizny (above) is a player the Tigers are counting on to improve Auburn's pass rush.
Auburn, Ala.--When the 3-2 Auburn Tigers take on the 4-1 Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington this Thursday (6 p.m. CDT, ESPN) a continued point of emphasis for the defense is improved play in the front seven, especially generating a pass rush.
“That would be great,” Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp said when asked about the importance of creating more of a pass rush. “I would be real happy. We need to generate with four guys. We’ve got to win some one-on-ones and I thought that there were some steps forward as far as our last game was concerned, getting some push in the pocket in the middle and on the edges.”
Going into Thursday’s game Kentucky is allowing an average of 3.2 quarterback sacks per contest, by far the most allowed by an SEC team. Auburn is giving up 1.80 sacks per game, which ranks seventh in the league.
A change to the front seven that had a positive impact against San Jose State was moving Cassanova McKinzy from linebacker to the starting buck position.
“He is a guy that can win in the one-on-one and we desperately need that,” Muschamp said. “It’s hard on him because from an assignment standpoint there is a lot on his plate. He’s a senior. He is a guy that has played a lot of football. Going into the last ball game I knew there would be some deficiencies at the position because of the lack of experience and the lack of playing there. You take the risk and reward that he made more plays than we would have without him.”
McKinzy recorded four tackles and one sack from his new position against the San Jose State Spartans, and on the season the Birmingham native has tallied 36 tackles (second on team) and three sacks (first).
“He has been willing and worked his butt off to make sure that we move forward in a very positive direction so I’ve been very pleased with what he has done,” said Muschamp, who is the position coach for the linebackers. “He will play both (linebacker and buck) in the game.”
McKinzy finished the Homecoming game with three of Auburn’s seven quarterback pressures, something that doesn’t surprise senior linebacker Justin Garrett. “He is just a great pass rusher and he will do anything Coach says,” Garrett pointed out.
Will Muschamp Auburn's defense is ranked 12th in the SEC in yards allowed at 412.0 per game.
Muschamp says that the front seven as a whole has made strides to improve with extra preparation time with the Tigers coming off a bye week, but he wants to take a “wait and see” approach to the SEC football road game on Thursday.
“I think that they have practiced better,” Muschamp noted. “I think we’ve tried to improve our pad level, our hand placement up front, playing behind our pads, disengaging, getting off blocks and playing double teams better. It’s not like we haven’t emphasized it before, but we’ll continue to try and address those things and improve. We’ll find out on game day.”