Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone is going to sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.
This week, The Chronicle’s Daniel Carp spoke to The FSView & Florida Flambeau's Sports Editor Brendan Bures about this weekend’s contest between Duke and Florida State.
The Chronicle: On paper, most of Florida State's matchups with ACC opponents appear to be pretty lopsided, and this week is no exception. But Duke is off to a hot start and is bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years—do you think the Seminoles are looking at the Blue Devils any differently than in years past?
Brandon Bures: Florida State's mantra all year has been "take it one game at a time". They're just as focused for Duke as they were for Clemson. I don't think they're taking Duke seriously because they see an improved record, they see the stats that Duke football has put up and they're definitely not taking this game lightly. People have obviously used to joke that Duke was just a basketball school but this year they've proven that they can play two sports.
TC: The Seminoles suffered a huge loss last weekend when they lost running back Chris Thompson for the season with a torn ACL. Who do the Seminoles expect to step in and carry the load and could this change impact the flow of their offense Saturday?
BB: Last year Chris Thompson went down with a back injury so Devonta Freeman, who was a freshman at the time, came in and filled in nicely. He has some experience and will be able to step in. They'll also look to James Wilder, Jr., whose improvement from last year to this year is off the charts. He's a bruiser—he's going to hit you hard and hit you fast. It's not going to be a huge drop-off in terms of skill. The biggest drop-off is a lack of a big-play potential that Chris Thompson brought to the running game. He was capable of hitting a home run every time he touched the ball.
TC: Forced to move on without their leading rusher, Florida State's offense will hinge on quarterback E.J. Manuel, who until recently was a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy. What is it about Manuel that makes him so dangerous?
BB: He's one of the most athletically gifted players any time he steps on the field. He has the arm strength and the offense is designed to give him easy throws. There's a reason why he's been the most accurate quarterback in the ACC for the past two years. The offense is designed for routes he can see developed and are less based on timing. I think what separates E.J. Manuel from most of the other quarterbacks as well is his running ability. It just completely changes the dynamic of the offense when you have a running quarterback like E.J. Manuel who can go out there and get you 15 yards just by scrambling.
TC: Saturday's game will pit the Blue Devil's passing offense, which is ranked second in the ACC, against the conference-leading pass defense of Florida State. What do you think worries the Seminoles most about Duke's passing game?
BB: They are very worried about Conner Vernon. Jimbo Fisher compared him to a DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson because that guy is such a technician. He's just as likely to make a big play as those other guys because he's so fundamentally sound. You could be right with him one second and then he could stick his foot in the ground, make a cut and be gone by the time you recognize it. What Florida State has to do against him is be as fundamentally sound as he is. They have to be focused and can't let him behind the defense.
TC: Florida State has the arguably the nation's two best defensive ends in Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner, who have each recorded eight sacks on the season. How big of an impact do these two players have on the Seminoles' ability to defend against the pass?
BB: You watch every Florida State game and the opposing offense is always affected by that pass rush. It affects timing and how quickly the quarterback has to get that ball out there. That's why you see them have such an effect on offense in regards to their pass defense. They get that pressure and can cause turnovers. Offense is all about rhythm and they disrupt that time and time again.
TC: Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game?
BB: I would say 37-14 Seminoles.