During Florida State's three-game win streak, perhaps no segment has been as dominant as the defensive line. The same could also be said about most of the season.
FSU is giving up just an average of 77 yards per game on the ground and has recorded 29 sacks. They rank fourth nationally in both categories.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher said he could tell the defensive line was going to be dominant as early as preseason camp.
"You have size, speed, power and athleticism and now you've got some experience," he said on Monday. "That's why they were recruited. There are guys up there that will have a shot to make some money (in the NFL) and have a career and keep playing well. But I did think that we would be pretty good up front and with some depth."
For middle linebacker Vince Williams, it was during the season opener when he realized how dominant the defensive line could be.
"(We as linebackers) didn't even make a tackle until like the second half," Williams said, almost in disbelief. "I was like 'I'm a starting middle linebacker. I don't have a tackle this game. They're running the ball like every play and I'm yet to make a tackle.' So when you're defensive line is eating people up like that, that's when it's unbelievable."
The defensive line has been powered along the interior thanks to four-man rotation of defensive tackles, Anthony McCloud, Everett Dawkins, Cameron Erving and true freshman Timmy Jernigan.
With fresh bodies inside it has freed up the defensive ends to get into the backfield. Brandon Jenkins has 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and on the other side Bjoern Werner leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Werner's backup Cornelius Carradine has also been a disruptive force with four sacks.
"As a whole defensive line we've just been working hard," McCloud said. "Challenging each other at practice to finish a play, get to the quarterback."
After Jacobbi McDaniel (ankle) went down for the year against Duke with an injury, McCloud and both Jernigan knew there workload would increase. Neither has wasted the opportunity of extra snaps.
McCloud, a redshirt junior, has recorded 17 tackles, four for loss and two sacks this season. Jernigan, who was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against N.C. State, has come on strong with 21 tackles, five for loss and 2.5 sacks.
McCloud said the rotation is what has made the defensive line so disruptive. After he and Dawkins go in for a few series, Jernigan and Erving are able to come in fresh.
"We go out there first, bruise up the offense a little bit," McCloud said. "Then we're going to put Tim Jernigan in and let him just go off, and he's been going off. So I think that works."
FSU will need a deep rotation on Thursday night as they take on Boston College. The Eagles have been a thorn in the Seminoles' side the last three seasons, winning two of three and rushing for no less than 170 yards in each meeting.
Much of that success has been due to the performances of BC running back Montel Harris - who will miss the remainder of the 2011 season with an ankle injury - and a size advantage along the offensive line.
With Harris out, and FSU finally having the size to match up inside as all four defensive tackles are close to or over 300 pounds, Williams thinks it will be different this season.
"I think that the size that we have up front now, not only the size, but the strength I think it's going to change the game a lot from even last year," Williams said. "With additions like Bjoern Werner playing a lot more, (Anthony McCloud) playing a lot more, so I think with those guys being in there it's going to change the game."
BC is averaging just 146.5 yards per game on the ground this season, but the Eagles are coming off a big performance against Maryland. BC racked up 372 yards on the ground against the Terrapins, 243 of which came from Harris' replacement Rolandan Finch.
Still, Williams likes FSU's chances with the way the defensive line has been playing.
"Boston College always does a great job recruiting tremendous offensive lineman," Williams said. "Real, real big guys. It's going to be a little different playing a team of that length
so we're just going to try to make them one-dimensional and see if they can get the run on us. I don't really think any one is going to be able to run on our front four."
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