No. 1 Florida State was simply too much for then-No. 20 Duke Saturday night in the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship game. Despite an early defensive effort that kept the Seminoles from scoring for the entire first quarter, the Blue Devils were overpowered by their opponent’s size and physicality losing the contest 45-7. Duke will need to regroup over the next three weeks to prepare for a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance Dec. 31 against SEC powerhouse Texas A&M and last year’s Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. Here are the grades for Duke’s performance:
Rush: The committee of running backs simply couldn’t find any holes in the Seminole front line to bust out for large gains, much less a first down. Duke’s offensive line was overmatched and largely could not create the necessary holes or forward push to open up running lanes. The Blue Devils managed merely 99 yards on the ground led by Shaquille Powell with 44 in the game. The biggest concern from the game was the seeming ineptitude of backs like Jela Duncan to earn first down rushing gains so that Duke was not forced to pass. The running game has become one of Duke’s trademarks this season and the lack of it certainly contributed to the loss and in maintaining drives.
Pass: With the rushing attack severely limited by the interior play of Florida State, Duke had to rely on the passing game for offensive production. It was not pretty. Quarterback Anthony Boone completed 50 percent of his 40 pass attempts, tossed two interceptions, and threw for merely 138 yards in the contest. Boone’s play was so abysmal that backup quarterback Brandon Connette was put into the game for a couple plays until he was injured on a hard hit from the Seminoles. The numbers however belie the opportunities Duke had, especially early, to take advantage of Florida State turnovers for easy points. With the game still scoreless in the first half, Boone tossed a pass to Jela Duncan in the red zone only to have it bobbled and dropped by the sophomore back. Had Duncan caught that pass, he could have made it into the end zone and put Duke up 7-0 early. Instead kicker Ross Martin missed the ensuing field goal attempt and the game remained scoreless.
X’s and O’s: Duke’s offense just did not look good. They were overpowered at nearly every position and without the use of play action due to the lack of rushing production, the Blue Devils pass attack was severely hampered. Duke needed the ball to bounce in their favor throughout the game, yet especially on offense, the opposite was much more the case. Looking forward to the bowl game against a major SEC school that will certainly have larger and stronger players, the Blue Devils will need to run the ball and that means controlling the line of scrimmage. If that happens, the passing game opens up for wide receiver Jamison Crowder and whatever quarterback head coach David Cutcliffe puts out on the field.
Rush: Duke’s lack of size up front in comparison to Florida State continues to be a theme of this piece, but it cannot be overstressed. Seminole back Devonta Freeman ran all over the Duke’s interior lineman. His strength and speed were too much for the Blue Devils, gaining 91 yards on 18 carries. Jameis Winston’s ability to run was also on display including with a 17-yard rushing touchdown in the second half. The experience of Duke’s secondary managed to contain the passing game to a point, but it seemed that when Florida State needed to gain a first down or maintain a drive, it could rely on the running game to do so with ease at times. Duke did cause a fumble and turnover in the first half in the red zone, but that was the limit of its defensive success against the run.
Pass: The secondary played well in this game, grabbing two picks from Winston and managing to contain Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw early, but the size and skill difference between the Seminole receiving core and Duke’s secondary were apparent. Benjamin and Shaw combined for three of Florida State’s five touchdowns including a spectacular catch by Benjamin in the corner of the end zone to put Florida State on the board 7-0 in the second quarter. Winston looked controlled in the first quarter, but soon began to find his primary targets and complete the passes most have become accustomed to seeing him toss. Duke did manage to disrupt his play at times by pressuring him at the line of scrimmage, but those efforts were often futile. Winston still threw for three touchdowns and 330 yards of passing yardage, even though the Blue Devils snagged two interceptions.
X’s and O’s: One can’t fault the defense for giving up 45 points to the leading Heisman trophy candidate and the No. 1 team in the country. The result was not a good one, but the effort and tenacity shown by the Blue Devil defense was exceptional. Duke executed well early in the game when their bodies were fresh and they could contest with the larger offensive line and wide receiver core of the Seminoles, yet as time dragged on, Florida State took over. The Blue Devils continued to hit hard and execute, but the problem became that with the offense stagnant, the defense spent too much time on the field to contain Winston, Benjamin, and co. from scoring. Intercepting Winston—who only had eight picks coming into the game—twice and holding the Seminoles scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since last season deserves commendation. Though Duke controlled the ball for about a minute more than the Seminoles, much of that time was due to the frequency of possession the Blue Devils had and that fact that they wasted as much time as they could every possession. The defense will continue to execute as they have all season, but the offense will need to contribute to the cause so that the brunt of an explosive offense is not put squarely on the shoulders of Duke’s undersized players.
Special Teams: B
This was a rather average game for special teams, an aspect of the game Duke needed to win in order to have a chance of competing in the game. Punter Will Monday saw a lot of playing time, booting nine punts for an average distance of 41.7 yards. Jamison Crowder, as the punt returner, had a fantastic return that put Duke in position to score, yet the Blue Devil offense failed to convert it into points. The kickoff unit was unable to contribute much with Florida State’s kicking unit aiming away from returner Devon Edwards, who has shown his big play capability multiple times this season. The big issue here was kicker Ross Martin whose one field goal attempt came in the first quarter with the game still scoreless. Martin’s kick sailed wide of the goal post and with it, Duke’s hopes to go up early against Florida State. One could say that may have been one of the biggest moments in the game.