Following a euphoric victory over rival North Carolina, Duke will face a sobering reality check this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida State (7-1, 4-1 ACC) comes into Saturday atop the ACC Atlantic Division and ranked 11th overall in the nation. N.C. State did upset the Seminoles in a controversial fourth quarter comeback three weeks ago, but the loss remains the only black mark on an otherwise flawless record. Florida State returned from that upset with a vengeance, defeating Boston College in a 51-7 shellacking and then overcoming Miami 33-20.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher, renowned for his top-notch recruiting, has ushered in a plethora of talent during his first three seasons at the helm. The Seminole defense is particularly imposing, ranked second in the country with only 226.5 total yards allowed per game. Upperclassmen Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner anchor Fisher’s defensive line, boasting a combined 20.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks apiece. Middle linebacker Vince Williams will be quarterbacking the defense, as hard-hitting veterans Nick Moody and Christian Jones patrol the strong and weak sides respectively. Also expect freshman Ronald Darby to be in on the action, as the young cornerback has stacked up 11 tackles and a forced fumble already this season.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has not been stingy about praising the Florida State defense.
“We’re playing a very physical team,” Cutcliffe said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “We’re playing the most physical team that we’ve seen—we’re playing the fastest team that we’ve seen if that tells you anything.”
Holding off the Seminoles’ defensive pressure will not be enough for Duke to win on Saturday, though. Florida State’s offense is dangerously explosive despite the loss of running back Chris Thompson in last week’s win over Miami.
An MRI taken late Sunday night revealed a torn left ACL, marking the end of Thompson’s senior season. Fisher announced the injury in his press conference Monday.
“[Thompson is] what’s right about college football. I say it all the time, but this game takes no prisoners,” Fisher said. “That’s a very big blow to us because of what he is to our team.”
Despite losing the leader of the backfield unit, the Seminoles have confidence that back-ups James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman will pick up the slack. Wilder Jr. and Freeman have seen plenty of the ball already, combining for 10 touchdowns and more than 100 carries so far this season.
Florida State will also look to their signal-caller, EJ Manuel, for leadership and consistency. Manuel entered this season as the most accurate quarterback in Seminole history, and has been a rock for Fisher’s offense this season. The versatile senior was recently named Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award semifinalist, and has 2,033 yards and 14 touchdowns already this year. Manual will receive assistance from deep threats Rodney Smith and Rashad Greene, who will spread the field and provide him with appealing downfield targets.
Florida State will be heavily favored to earn their 18th consecutive win against Duke this weekend. Nevertheless, Saturday’s game will also mark a chance for the Blue Devils to silence their doubters.