TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For the first time in the two teams’ 13 meetings, Duke held Florida State without a touchdown in the opening half. But while the defense gave the Blue Devils a chance, turnovers by the offense killed the team’s upset hopes.
Duke turned the ball over five times during Saturday’s 29-7 loss, including a costly interception thrown by quarterback Mike Schneider at the start of the fourth quarter. Trailing 19-7 at the time, the Blue Devils faced 1st-and-goal on the Florida State 3-yard line when Schneider forced a pass into the right corner of the end zone. Pat Watkins picked off the illadvised throw, and the Seminoles scored a touchdown on their ensuing possession.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish it out and take advantage of our opportunities and make our opportunities count,” head coach Ted Roof said. “We didn’t do that in the second half.”
Although Duke scored a touchdown on its other trip to the red zone Saturday, it has struggled mightily inside opponents’ 20-yard lines throughout the season. The Blue Devils have only scored on 62 percent of their chances, nearly 20 percent less than their opponents.
The defense played especially well in the first half against the conference’s fourth-best offense after being the team’s Achilles heel the past few weeks. The Blue Devils gave up 215 yards in the half but they buckled down in the red zone, holding the Seminoles to just field goals in their three trips inside the 20-yard line.
“That was frustrating,” said Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden of his team’s inability to find the end zone in the first half. “It was kind of like a nightmare where you wake up and there’s a guy chasing you, but you can’t run fast.”
The Duke defense also did not allow Florida State to convert a third down all game.
“They have good players and they’re going to make good plays, and we knew that was going to happen,” Brendan Dewan said. “I think we did well. They were 0-for-11 on third downs. That’s huge for us to get them off the field.”
The Blue Devil offense could not take advantage even though the defense kept the game within reach. In the first quarter, it managed just a single first down and 13 total yards. Duke barely made it out of the shadow of its own goalposts and only made it into Seminoles territory five times the entire game. Of those five drives, two ended with interceptions and one with a fumble.
Cedric Dargan, who was coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, averaged less than two yards per carry and was ineffective, rushing for just 23 yards. He was able to score his first touchdown of the season, though, on a one-yard run.
Schneider, who had a career-best performance against Wake Forest last week, felt the pressure of the Seminoles’ defense. He completed 19-of-31 passes but threw three interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked three times.
“That’s part of the deal when you play quarterback, you’ve got to have the ability to make quick decisions,” Roof said. “He made some awfully good decisions to help his team, but we can’t get down in the red zone and turn it over.”
In the team’s previous two contests, the Blue Devils had been most successful when they ran short passing routes and kept the defense off-balance, giving Dargan chances to run effectively.
Because Duke started with such poor field position Saturday, it was unable to operate this type of offense. Roof has not shown confidence in his offensive line when the Blue Devils are backed up inside their own 10-yard line, electing to hand the ball off rather than letting Schneider drop back to pass, a strategy that has had poor results.
As Duke continues to take steps to improve, it can no longer be content with moral victories. The players need to start playing smarter football and capitalizing on their chances.
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