D-Line coming off dominating performance against FIU

Sophomore Defensive Lineman, Rammell Lewis, wishes Arkansas State University fans peace and a good weekend despite mass heckling against the Toppers.

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Willie Taggart calls his offensive and defensive linemen ‘the tunnel workers’ because they’re the unnoticed heroes of the WKU football team.

The defensive line had a heroic performance against Florida International on Saturday, a night when not much else went right for the Toppers.

The line — comprised of four starting seniors — recorded nine sacks on the night.

 Defensive end Quanterus Smith led the way with five, a Sun Belt Conference single-game record.

Fellow end Cole Tischer had two sacks, while tackles Jamarcus Allen and Rammell Lewis each added one of their own.

Taggart said the linemen were the difference-makers against FIU in the 14-6 WKU win.

“Our d-line has been playing outstanding all year long,” he said. “It’s great to see because all of those guys have been playing since freshmen.”

The Topper linemen have grown up with the WKU football program. WKU went 0-12 in 2009, the first season of eligibility for the four starters — this year, they’ve helped the Toppers get off to a 6-2 start.

They have grown into the strongest defensive line in the Sun Belt Conference, ranking No. 1 in the league rushing defense and sacks.

Defensive line coach Eric Mathies has seen the linemen grow up. He said the struggles helped the starters and older reserves, such as senior Kenny Martin, grow to become a determined crew.

“You’ve seen them and you see them on the field — they went from the ‘Tiny Tackles’ back in the day to now, they’re a more mature group,” Mathies said.

Smith was the star on Saturday, but don’t call it a breakout game — he came into the game with 6.5 sacks on the year and currently leads the NCAA in sacks per game (1.64) while holding a tie for the lead in total sacks (11.5) and sack yards (79).

Taggart said Smith’s five-sack performance against FIU was the result of hard work in the offseason.

“That doesn’t happen every day in college football, and it’s good for Q to be able to do that,” Taggart said. “The guy’s been working his tail off over the last few years and he’s starting to reap the benefits of working hard.”

Smith, who was named Sun Belt defensive player of the week for the second time this year on Monday, said a lot of credit for some of those sacks has to go to the man playing next to him.

When Allen rushes the quarterback, Smith said, the tackle puts him in a position to make a play from the outside of the line.

“If (offensive linemen) see him coming inside, they might want to step outside,” Smith said. “It benefits.”

Allen, a three-year starter, is a team captain and vocal leader for the Topper defense.

Mathies said Allen has earned the respect of his teammates by giving his all on every down, calling the tackle a “warrior.”

“I’ve watched the film — the kid doesn’t take plays off,” he said. “He plays hard every snap and it helped in his development, too.”

The WKU defensive line will have a whole new look next year. All four starters are playing in their last season of eligibility — Allen has already graduated with a degree in sociology.

Of the 10 defensive linemen that aren’t seniors currently on the WKU roster, eight are freshmen.

Tischer said the underclassmen understand that their time to step up for the program is coming.

“They’re out here every day working as hard as we are doing what they do,” he said.

They also have the benefit of playing behind seniors who have seen it all.

Taggart said the defensive line has grown into the strength of the Topper defense in the past five years.

“They’ve been puppies and now they’re full-grown dogs, and they’re barking and they’re helping our football team.”