ORLANDO, Fla. – DeMarcus Walker had just posted 4 ½ sacks in one half – including a strip-sack of Ole Miss’ quarterback Chad Kelly that helped turn the tide in Florida State’s 45-34 victory over the Rebels – and he had a question that needed answering: “What’s the record here?” For the record, since FSU started recording sacks in 1977, no Seminole has posted more than five in a game. Ron Simmons did it in 1977 and Willie Jones followed suit in 1978.
So Walker finished just short of that mark Monday night, but, then again, neither Simmons nor Jones did the bulk of that work in a single half.
And it’s unlikely that either’s effort meant more to his team’s chances of winning a game.
After a quiet first half in which Florida State’s defenders often found themselves chasing Ole Miss’ receivers into the end zone, Walker led a stunning turnaround over the final 30 minutes.
That helped the Seminoles turn what was a 28-6 lead for Ole Miss into one of FSU’s most memorable victories in recent years.
“I was doing my job (in the first half),” Walker said. “But I wasn’t being the hero that I can be.”
In the second half, Walker might as well have been wearing a mask and cape.
Mixing in some snaps at defensive tackle, the senior defensive end was virtually unblockable during the third and fourth quarters.
With the tide turning in FSU’s favor early in the third, Walker ripped through Ole Miss’ offensive line, got his arms around Kelly and didn’t lose his grip when the elusive Rebel quarterback tried to escape.
The ball came loose as Kelly fell to the ground and Derrick Nnadi recovered it at the Ole Miss 11-yard line. A few moments later, Kermit Whitfield raced into the end zone for a touchdown that gave FSU its first lead of the game.
“I was in ‘mamba’ mode,” said Walker, in reference to basketball star Kobe Bryant’s “Black Mamba” nickname. “I was in savage mode. … Chad Kelly is a good quarterback. But I know what was at stake.
“After the game, I told him ‘Hey, you’re one heck of a warrior.’ I just wanted it more.”
Walker’s other sacks maybe weren’t quite as dramatic, but they still seemed to happen at the most important of times.
Two came on key third downs that forced the Rebels to punt while FSU nursed a one-score lead.
Another dropped Kelly for a loss of 10 on first down, setting the Rebels behind the chains as they pushed for a late rally.
And Walker’s final sack fittingly came on Ole Miss’ last drive of the game – a nine-yard loss that forced the Rebels into a third-and-16 and led to a game-sealing interception on the very next play.
“He puts his heart and soul into everything he does,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It matters to him. He’s fun to watch play.”
Unsurprisingly, Walker’s second-half surge coincided with a furious about-face for Florida State’s defense.
After looking out of sync during the first half, the Seminoles were downright dominant in the second.
Consider that the Rebels went into halftime with 312 yards of total offense. By the end of the third quarter, that total was down to 305.
In fact, four of the Rebels’ seven drives in the second half went for negative yardage, and six of seven ended in either a punt or a turnover.
“It was a nightmarish second half,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
“We had to find our heart,” sophomore safety Derwin James said. “… We had to dig deep and look in each others’ eyes and know the game (wasn’t) over yet.”
With Walker wreaking havoc up front, Kelly no longer had time to scan the field and find soft spots in the FSU defense.
And with a renewed confidence after a few stops, the defensive backs in the second half held their coverage long enough to allow Walker that extra split second to reach the Ole Miss backfield.
According to James, that’s exactly how it should be.
“If we can cover the guys, it makes (Walker’s) job easier,” James said. “And if he can get to the quarterback, it makes our job easier. It works hand in hand.
“He cranked it up in the second half.”