Jonathan Yenga knows what it would mean for the SMU program to upset No. 16 UCF (10-1, 7-0 American) on Saturday.
With a win, SMU (5-6, 4-3 American) would reach .500 for the first time since their second game of the season and earn a bowl invitation. The Mustangs would also finish strong after a disappointing start to the season.
“We want to win for our seniors,” said Yenga, a linebacker out of Euless Trinity. “We know UCF is a great team, but we know it would feel great to finish with a win. We want to go to a fifth straight bowl as a program. We expect to go to bowl games. We don’t want any drop-offs.”
SMU lost four of its first five games, including a tough three-game losing streak against Texas A&M, TCU and Rutgers. The Rutgers loss was particularly difficult, a triple-overtime defeat at home.
“After that Rutgers game, our team leaders called a meeting and told us that it wouldn’t be easy to turn our season around,” Yenga said. “We had to play together, play physical and play hard for 60 minutes. We knew we could improve, but we had to start doing the little things.”
The Mustangs did start doing the little things and are 4-2 since. Yenga, a redshirt sophomore, has also developed into a playmaker on defense.
“It’s about recognizing plays for my position as a will linebacker,” said Yenga of his position on the weakside, where he gets to use his speed. “You have to recognize the other team’s personnel and then know what plays they like to run out of that personnel. I have to read the edge and be able to cover guys too.”
Yenga is fifth on the team this season with 47 total tackles, 27 of them solo. He has 11 tackles for loss, including six sacks, to go with a forced fumble.
“In high school I played middle and outside,” Yenga said. “Now, at will, it’s a matter of adapting to speed. You have to go against pulling linemen. If you are undersized, it’s tougher.”
Yenga has been able to attend many Trinity games since starting his career at SMU and said his family and friends have been able to support him every home game.
“It means a lot to be close to home,” he said. “Going to SMU is the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m a momma’s boy. I visited Arizona and liked it a lot. But when I talked to my mom, she told me she wanted me closer to family and friends. I liked SMU’s coaches, and I knew they really wanted me.”
Saturday, Yenga will get one more chance to play in front of his home crowd as a sophomore, as the Mustangs take on UCF in their season finale.
“I have to keep working hard and show them that they didn’t recruit me for nothing,” Yenga said.
Games of the week
“God is good, and that’s all I have to say about that.” — Auburn’s Chris Davis, after he returned a missed Alabama field goal from the back of the end zone and 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. Davis and his teammates toppled top-ranked Bama to earn a spot in the SEC championship game.
“I’ll have a comment on Sunday.” — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer when asked about the BCS national championship outlook. The No. 2 Buckeyes need to top No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to claim a spot in the title game. Meyer was all Big Ten business this week when talking to reporters, saying: “There will be no conversation about what happens after this game until after this game.”