TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—The Blue Devils may be bowl eligible, but Florida State showed just how wide a gap there is between Duke and the ACC’s best.
Senior quarterback EJ Manuel threw two touchdown passes, and sophomore Devonta Freeman added two scores on the ground as No. 11 Florida State routed the Blue Devils 48-7 Saturday in Tallahassee. The loss was painful not only on the scoreboard but also in terms of personnel—quarterback Sean Renfree and running back Juwan Thompson both left the game with apparently serious injuries.
“Today, you saw a whipping. We got whipped. There’s no recipe that could have changed it,” Cutcliffe said. “You never have a chance to be great in anything if you don’t learn how to get your butt kicked.”
In a matchup between the leaders of the conference’s Coastal and Atlantic Divisions, the Seminoles (8-1, 5-1 in the ACC) dominated in all aspects of the game from the start. Just three minutes into the game, Manuel found Rashad Greene deep down the middle for a 71-yard touchdown catch for an early 7-0 lead, and Florida State never looked back.
Renfree could not manage to move the ball with any consistency against the Seminoles’ stifling defensive front. Senior defensive end Cornellius Carradine put constant pressure on the Blue Devil offensive line, forcing Renfree into several hurried throws.
Duke (6-3, 3-2) failed to take advantage of a Manuel fumble that gave the Blue Devils the ball at their own 25-yard line, and following a quick three-and-out, Will Monday lined up to punt. Florida State’s Tyler Hunter fielded the punt at the Seminole 25-yard line, and raced up the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown. Kicker Dustin Hopkins tacked on a 26-yard field goal to give Florida State a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“We came out the first two drives, scored bang-bang,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Offensively, defensively, and special teams all did a great job.”
Duke’s defensive woes did not get any better. Manuel then found wide receiver Rodney Smith for a 52-yard reception, which led to a one-yard touchdown run by James Wilder, Jr. Freeman’s touchdown from nine yards out making it 31-0 just four minutes into the second quarter.
“They are a talented football team,” senior defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “We both came ready to play, we just got beat—flat out. I think we just malfunctioned. We could have done better.”
Just when Duke’s offense finally found some rhythm, key injuries knocked Renfree and Thompson out of the game. Renfree lofted a pass to a streaking Thompson down the sideline, but a ferocious helmet-to-helmet hit by a Seminole defender forced Thompson to the locker room.
With the Seminole defense blanketing receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder, usually Renfree’s first and second options respectively, the senior quarterback was forced to look to his other options. He connected with sophomore Issac Blakeney and freshman wide receiver Max McCaffrey on key third downs to help extend the drive. Then facing fourth-and-nine on the Florida State 23, Renfree found Desmond Scott for a ten-yard gain, but a late hit knocked Renfree to the ground, and he left the game with a head injury, a reported concussion.
Renfree finished 13-of-21 for 92 yards.
Sophomore Anthony Boone entered the game under center, and handed off to freshman running back Jela Duncan who scored on a three-yard touchdown run with just under five minutes remaining in the half. The two teams entered halftime with Florida State up 31-7.
“Every number here tells you we didn’t play well,” Cutcliffe said. “We didn’t play well on first down, we didn’t play well on second down, and we didn’t play well on third down. That makes it really hard.”
Following the break, Duke attempted a surprise onside kick that proved unsuccessful and gave the Seminoles a short field to work with. Florida State promptly scored two plays later on Freeman’s 14-yard scamper up the middle, removing any doubt about the final outcome.
The Seminoles’ Kelvin Benjamin had a 35-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter and Hopkins connected from 56 yards for a field goal to cap off the scoring for Florida State.
Duke struggled in all aspects offensively. Boone finished 3-of-15 for 37 yards, and Duncan led the Blue Devils with just 46 yards rushing. Duke will look to move on from this game as they prepare for Clemson next week.
“I think Florida State is the best team in the country,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “I don’t think they have a weakness.”