Armed Forces Bowl Breakdown: LBs

Only a couple of days remain until SMU tangles with Army in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and the Mustangs LB unit - a strength all season - will need an exceptional effort in order to put the brakes on one of the most productive ground games in the nation. Who are the linebackers to watch for both teams?

Linebacker has been a position of strength for SMU. Inside backers Pete Fleps and Taylor Reed have combined with Youri Yenga and Ja'Gared Davis on the outside to form an aggressive, spirited group that's been steady, if not spectacular, all season.

Not surprisingly, four of the Mustangs' top five tacklers are linebackers. Davis, only a sophomore, has terrorized offenses to the tune of a team-high 15 TFL and 9 sacks, and he's even scored two touchdowns. The opportunistic sophomore plays with - excuse the cliche - a high motor, as does fellow sophomore Taylor Reed.

There's really no more apt way to describe the efforts of SMU's headhunting duo. Davis and Reed bring a ton of energy to the field and they arrive at the football in a bad mood. The tandem refuse to be intimidated by anyone, and they each play with a mean streak that is fun to observe - unless you unfortunately happen to be holding the football.

Reed may be only 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, but he plays much bigger than that. The Mustangs' leading tackler (133 stops), Reed must be licking his chops at the chance to face another option team after he battered Navy earlier in the year (with a season-high 20 tackles). A couple of other big games for Reed came against Rice (15 tackles) and UTEP (15 tackles).

Pete Fleps
Seniors Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga aren't as vocal on the field as their sophomore teammates, but they do plenty of speaking without saying a word. Fleps, who has repeatedly been named to the C-USA All-Academic Team, ranks second on the squad with 116 tackles.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Southlake Carroll is the consummate run-stuffer who successfully plugs the middle. Fleps was a one-man gang vs. East Carolina, racking up 18 tackles.

Yenga has 81 tackles, including a season-high 14 stops in SMU's come-from-behind road win over Tulane. He's fifth on the squad in tackles, while Davis is fourth (with 82). The only non-LB in the top five is safety Chris Banjo (23).

Army's triple option offense will place the onus on the SMU linebackers. When the 'Stangs faced Navy this year, the defense shutout the Midshipmen in the first-half, although Navy's offense came alive after intermission.

In other words, if the Mustangs' D can string together four solid quarters, then they'll be hoisting a bowl trophy for the second year in a row.

Turning to Army, the Black Knights usually go with only two LBs, but those two are special players for West Point. Senior Stephen Anderson is described by Army's official site as the "heartbeat" of their defense, and he's certainly beat down a few opponents.

Steven Erzinger
The 5-foot-10, 222-pounder from Maryland is first on the squad with 94 tackles and second in TFL (10.5). He's served as a team captain in each of the past two years.

Army's defense features quite a few Texas natives, including junior Steven Erzinger from Houston Lamar HS. The 6-foot-1, 222-pounder is second on the squad with 71 tackles, and he evidently possesses great athleticism, as a member of Army's local media noted today that Erzinger will likely be asked to cover slot receivers vs. SMU.

Erzinger, who was the Defensive MVP of his district as a high school senior, has a twin brother who lettered in baseball last season as a relief pitcher for Texas Tech.

Pony Stampede Top Stories