Duke is looking to become this week’s Red Sox, this week’s North Carolina, and especially, this week’s Maryland. But if the Blue Devils knock off Florida State (6-2, 4-2 in the ACC) in Tallahassee on Homecoming weekend it may be the biggest upset of them all.
In spite of the Seminoles’ surprise loss to Maryland last week and a close call against Wake Forest the week before, the Blue Devils (1-7, 0-5) will have their hands full against a refocused Florida State team at Dock Campbell Stadium Saturday at noon. The Seminoles have never failed to score fewer than 44 points against Duke at home.
The Blue Devils’ play this season has improved week by week, but No. 13 Florida State wields a highly-ranked defense and a fast-paced rushing game. Head coach Ted Roof stressed the importance of attacking the Seminoles early if his team hopes to stand a chance against FSU.
“Teams that are heavy underdogs like we are this week, you’ve got to go in and you’ve got to get off to a good start,” Roof said. “Underdogs don’t go in and fall behind by 21, 28 points and come back and win.”
Duke may have its best chance to attack early as Florida State adjusts to numerous recent changes. Head coach Bobby Bowden named new captains this week for all three units and announced Chris Rix would return as the starting quarterback after being benched five games ago. Rix threw for 327 yards in last year’s 56-7 victory over Duke.
Florida State’s offense will be weakened by the absence of tailback Leon Washington, who led the ACC in rushing yards before going down with an injury, and the recent suspension of flanker Craphonso Thorpe, the Seminoles’ leader in pass receptions.
“If you are going to have a consistent running game, you need both of those two runners in there,” Bowden said of Washington and Lorenzo Booker.
The Blue Devils, who have allowed more than 500 combined rushing years in its past two games, may still struggle to contain Florida State’s rushing game even without the team’s primary back.
“What they run up front is pretty simple,” linebacker Brendan Dewan said. “They beat you individually. Each man beats you. They’re just going to stuff it down your throat, that’s how they play.
“I think that if we stop their run, it’s going to make it tough on their passing game, since their quarterbacks have struggled in recent weeks.”
The Blue Devils have their own offensive woes to overcome as they struggled to convert 423 yards into points during last week’s close loss to Wake Forest. Duke was forced to attempt field goals in the red zone three times. The team had several costly turnovers, including a fumble on the one-yard line.
Quarterback Mike Schneider, who turned in his best performance of the year against the Demon Deacons, said Duke is focused on “being more careful with the ball” inside the 20-yard line.
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“Three points is better than no points,” Schneider said. “Hold on to the ball, that’s our big thing this week. Just don’t turn the ball over, and no penalties.”
Against a depleted Duke offensive line prone to backfield penetration, the Florida State defense is likely to try to force turnovers by putting heavy pressure on Schneider. Defensive end Chauncey Davis, who leads the Seminoles in sacks this season, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the team’s leader in pickoffs, will both try to force big plays.
“With Florida State’s speed, they probably think that they can cover us man-to-man,” Schneider said. “We’re going to look to take advantage of that.”
Ranked second nationally against the run, FSU will look to shut down Duke’s lackluster running game, which has shown improvement with the return of Cedric Dargan. If the Blue Devils hope to be effective on offense, they will likely need to do it in the air. The Seminole pass defense has been less dominant, allowing Maryland’s Joel Stantham 333 passing yards last week.
Roof hopes his team is aggressive early and dictates the course of the game from the outset as it tries to notch its first win against a team that is 50-1 at home against ACC teams.
“Momentum is such a big thing in the game of football,” Roof said. “When ole mo’ swings in your favor, it’s a good thing, it’s a powerful thing.”