TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- DeMarcus Walker said he channeled his inner Kobe Bryant against Ole Miss when he reversed Florida State’s fortunes on defense. In the second half, when Walker took aim -- whether the offensive line, the quarterback or the ball -- he didn’t miss.
"I was in Mamba mode," Walker said after the game. "I was in savage mode, living legend."
Call it Clowney mode, too. Suh mode is a fitting characterization as well. Against the Rebels, Walker had 4.5 sacks, matching single-game efforts from college defensive line legends Jadeveon Clowney and Ndamukong Suh.
It’s a rare group the 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior defensive end put himself in with Monday’s feat, one rarely seen against Power 5 opponents. Including Walker, it’s happened only 10 times since 2004. Walker did all of his damage in the second half, too. Even Elvis Dumervil can’t stake that claim from when he set the FBS record of six sacks in 2005.
In fact, it’s not been done since at least 2004. ESPN’s vast stats database produced one result for a player recording 4.5 sacks or more in a half: Walker on Monday.
Maybe he ought to refer to it as "Living Legend mode" from now on. (Walker's Twitter handle is @livinglegend_44.)
The Seminoles needed every sack, too. The first forced a fumble that led to the go-ahead touchdown. The next two came on third downs with Florida State holding a tenuous one-score lead. The entire second half Walker harassed Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly, who had a 5.3 QBR over the final two quarters after a near-perfect 93.4 in the first half.
"He loves playing ball. He loves being a teammate. He loves being a leader. He loves razzing me. He loves about everything," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday. "He just creates an energy among this team that is a genuine love to be good, and he puts his heart and soul into everything he does. It matters to him. He's fun to watch play and fun to watch practice."
That was evident in Monday’s game when the Rebels were held to negative yardage in the third quarter, but it comes more often in practice. Walker blisters lackadaisical teammates who fail to match his intensity.
His practice effort turned him into arguably the ACC’s best defensive linemen. An ESPN 300 signee in 2013, Walker had just two sacks in his first 26 games. A breakout junior season ended with 10.5 sacks, ranking fifth in the conference.
So far it’s been a shrewd decision resisting the NFL after his junior season, as Walker is the national sacks leader to start 2016.
"Coach always says you practice how you play, and he showed it right there the whole game," defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said Wednesday.
One wrinkle opposing coaches will deal with is Walker rushing the passer from the interior. Florida State moved Walker to defensive tackle several times in the second half, and the Rebels' offensive line was unable to stop Walker’s blend of speed and power.
The New York Giants routinely moved pass-rushers to defensive tackle during their recent Super Bowl runs, famously calling it the "NASCAR package."
Walker said the plan is to play there at times in pass-rush situations, which could be a headache for some of the country’s best quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Brad Kaaya and Deshaun Watson, all of whom are on the Seminoles’ schedule.
"When we get to third down, I move inside. People do that in the league," Walker said. "Our defensive coaches just move me around."