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.
Never miss a local story.
“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
No. 5 Missouri at No. 3 Auburn (3 p.m. Saturday, CBS): It’s the two teams no one outside of Columbia, Mo., or Auburn, Ala., gave a shot at the start of the season. And it’s the matchup everyone is talking about. Two fairy-tale teams, Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC) and Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC), will meet in Atlanta with the SEC championship on the line. The SEC’s hopes at keeping its BCS championship streak going may rest with Auburn, which is likely need help from Duke or Michigan State later in the day. But no matter, this matchup of Tigers should deliver drama.
No. 7 Stanford at No. 11 Arizona State (6:45 p.m. Saturday, ESPN): Stanford (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) dashed all Pac-12 hopes for a BCS national championship when it knocked off Oregon in a Thursday night showcase. But Stanford has struggled at times, losing at Utah and at USC. Still, The Cardinal can play for the Rose Bowl with a win against Arizona State (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12), a team that has turned its season around after losing to Stanford, 42-28, and Notre Dame, 37-34, earlier this season.
No. 20 Duke at No. 1 Florida State (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/8): Duke’s rise has been so quick, why count it out against the nation’s top team? The Blue Devils (10-2, 6-2 ACC) have won eight straight since losing back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. But Florida State (12-0, 8-0 ACC) is the clear favorite. The Seminoles have the top defense in points allowed. Florida State is giving up just 11 points a game. And it is second in the nation is scoring with 53.7 points a game. It will take another miracle for Duke to derail Florida State’s track to the BCS title game.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan State (7:17 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/4): Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has been bemoaning the BCS system down the season stretch, when Alabama and Florida State had the inside track to the BCS championship game. But Bama lost, and now it’s the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) who are set up to play for the crystal football, unless a one-loss SEC team somehow leapfrogs them. All Ohio State needs is a win against Michigan State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten). The Spartans will try to slow the pace (they are holding opponents to 11.8 points a game and just scoring 29.4), a strategy that has led to eight straight wins after an early-season loss to Notre Dame.
13.8 million People who tuned in to watch Auburn upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl rivalry game last weekend, according to CBS Sports. That number made the matchup the most-watched of this season. Alabama also participated in the next two highest-rated games, wins against Texas A&M and LSU.
2 Combined conference wins between Auburn and Missouri in 2012. This season, the two have combined for 14 Southeastern Conference victories, and that number will grow to 15 after the two Tigers square off in this weekend’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
“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.”