Not much about Duke’s final contest of the 2020 season went according to plan.
The Blue Devils suffered a 56-35 throttling at the hands of Florida State Saturday, falling behind 28-0 just 13 minutes into the game.
Duke clawed its way back to a 28-21 halftime deficit, but its misfortune soon returned. Florida State quickly scored a touchdown on its first possession of the second half, exploiting the modified defensive scheme that Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe had hoped would allow star edge rusher Chris Rumph II to contain the quarterback.
It was the possession prior that truly proved to be the game’s turning point, however. Duke quarterback Chase Brice took a devastating hit from Florida State’s Brendan Gant, who collided full-speed into Brice’s non-throwing shoulder, forcing the football loose and also forcing the redshirt junior quarterback out of the contest.
Not only did the year-long theme of turnovers resurface just as the Blue Devils were making a comeback, but Duke also lost its offensive leader.
And with redshirt junior Chris Katrenick opting out of the season in October and redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg out with an upper body injury Saturday, Cutcliffe was forced to turn to Duke’s original fourth-string quarterback: true freshman Luca Diamont. The four-star prospect didn’t enter the game unprepared, though—he’s spent most of the season playing against the first-string defense in practice, with that preparation only becoming more intense over the last week as he saw heightened chances of playing time.
Diamont’s first play was a read option, on which he was taken down for a loss of five yards. After regaining possession after a Seminole touchdown, he completed his first collegiate pass on a screen to Eli Pancol. Four plays later, however, while facing intense Seminole pressure, he threw the ball off his back foot and into the hands of Florida State safety Travis Jay for the interception.
Overall, Diamont was used mostly on the ground, with the Los Angeles native showcasing his speed en route to 60 rushing yards on 10 carries. He also completed five of his eight total passing attempts for 38 yards, most of that yardage coming on Duke’s final drive.
Nevertheless, Cutcliffe was impressed with Diamont’s effort amid unforeseen circumstances.
“He’s a very committed young man. I love him in meetings—he's always asking questions, and he does extra work with great effort. And I thought that showed tonight,” Cutcliffe said. “Very proud of what he did. He fought to give us every chance we could to be successful.”
Duke ultimately used one more quarterback under center, with Daniel Karlin running in a quarterback sneak for the Blue Devils’ last touchdown of the evening. The play marked the first career appearance for the senior, a bright moment during an otherwise grim afternoon for the Blue Devils.
Officially, this game will go down as the final beatdown of a disappointing season for Duke. But Saturday also exhibited the team's ability to make quick adjustments and overcome adversity, something Cutcliffe emphasized after the contest.
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“When you go through adversity, you're going to come out on the other side with a bright light if you're the right type of people,” Cutcliffe said. “And I do believe we have the right type.”