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Duke will need to protect Daniel Jones if it wants to beat Florida State

Third and goal: Duke football vs. Florida State



Duke's offense has ground to a halt, and so has its early season run of perfection with two straight losses. With preseason No. 3 Florida State coming to Wallace Wade Stadium, it will need to pick up its play—in a hurry. Here are three keys to Saturday’s contest:

Protect Daniel Jones

While this is generally an expectation for any offensive line, it is particularly relevant matching up against a Florida State defense that returned nine starters from last season’s Orange Bowl-winning squad. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has struggled mightily since his dominant performance against Northwestern, a trend that was epitomized in last week’s 28-21 setback at Virginia, where Jones completed just 33.3 percent of his passes. Part of that results from the quarterback being under pressure—Jones has been sacked 18 times this season—which is why the Blue Devils have opted for a high concentration of short throws, particularly against Miami. Duke excels offensively when Jones is firing on all cylinders—the Blue Devils limp into Saturday’s contest on a two-game losing streak because he hasn’t been, and the protection up front must be better if he wants to regain his early season form. 

Jump out early

With the exception of the game against North Carolina, in the games the Blue Devils have won this season, they have amassed double digit leads early and controlled the pace of play. Against Northwestern, Duke was up 21-3 halfway through the second quarter. Against Baylor, the advantage was 21-7 five minutes into the second half. Over the last two weeks, however, Miami and Virginia jumped to early leads, causing the Blue Devils to abandon the run game—one of the team’s relative strengths. While it is obvious that any team wants to get on the board early, it is particularly relevant against Florida State. The Seminoles have only scored six points in the first quarter this entire season. Compared with 35 points scored in the fourth quarter, it is clear that opportunity exists for Duke to go up early, which will be crucial for the team’s success given Florida State’s scoring history so far this season.

Put pressure on James Blackman

Blackman, Florida State’s true freshman quarterback, only has three games under his belt after Heisman-contender Deondre Francois went down with a knee injury. The Blue Devils boast one of the toughest run defenses in the nation, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry on average, and stand poised to take advantage of Blackman’s youth and lack of elite mobility. The Seminoles average four sacks per game, an encouraging sign for a Blue Devil unit that has amassed 19 sacks so far this season. Duke should do its best to rattle a freshman quarterback away from home in order to let the offense spend as much time on the field as possible.


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