Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy had been coming through for Auburn even before they combined to make the team's biggest play of the season.
The two linebackers for the third-ranked Tigers have helped turn a position that had been regarded as a liability the last few seasons into a strength of the defense, and they're taking some pride in that evolution.
"It came around the second game," McKinzy said Tuesday. "We felt like the Auburn linebackers weren't getting a lot of recognition. Me and Frost are trying to take it upon ourselves to make those linebacking plays that those great guys made when they came through Auburn.
"I feel like we're doing pretty well at that."
They'd never done it better than in the final two minutes of the Mississippi game. Frost forced a fumble at the goal line and McKinzy dove on the ball in the end zone to help preserve a 35-31 win and Auburn's national title hopes entering Saturday's game with Texas A&M.
Frost, who also played wide receiver in high school, showed off his athleticism and tenacity in forcing his third fumble of the season. He and McKinzy both blitzed from the middle of the line.
Then Frost turned back and managed to chase down the tackle-breaking wide receiver Laquon Treadwell while McKinzy trailed the play.
"Stripping the ball was just unbelievable on top of that," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "He grabbed his arm and got it to come out. I'm not sure the injury (to Treadwell) didn't cause him to let go of the ball. It happened so quickly right there.
"Cassanova made a good effort to get to the ball and get on it."
The play might not join Ricardo Louis's touchdown catch against Georgia or Chris Davis's 109-yard return versus Alabama in Auburn lore, but it's been a highlight of this season.
Johnson said Frost has always been a playmaker but was inconsistent. He's had two big games in a row, racking up 14 tackles while forcing and recovering fumbles against South Carolina.
Frost grabbed the 229-pound Treadwell's jersey and finally yanked him back near the goal line. Treadwell sustained a broken left leg and a dislocated ankle on the play, and Frost said the Tigers have been praying for him.
"With him being as strong as he is, I did have to kind of dig in and lean back on him and pull him back," said Frost, the SEC defensive player of the week. "I pulled him back by the waist and unfortunately that's when he kind of fell back on it and I kind of rolled up on him. And when he fell to the side, I felt the ball. I felt kind of like I hit the ball but I didn't know the ball was out until I actually saw Cass jump on it."
Frost and McKinzy swapped positions during the offseason in a defense that typically employs two linebackers, a four-man front and five defensive backs. Frost backed up Jake Holland at middle linebacker last season while McKinzy started every game at weakside linebacker.
He has 23 tackles in the last two games, including 18 solo stops.
McKinzy, who now mans the middle, is second on the team with 52 tackles and leads the way with eight stops behind the line.
"We take us being on the field at the same time pretty serious," McKinzy said. "We feel like when we're on the field at the same time we have a great chemistry.
"When I'm wrong, he makes me right. When he's wrong, I make him right. I feel like that's how it has to be."
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