While this season has surely been a disappointment for the Blue Devils, there's still an opportunity to secure a historic first.
Duke faces off against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday at 4 p.m. for the two teams' first meeting since 2017, a matchup that saw the Seminoles knock off the Daniel Jones-led Blue Devils by a final score of 17-10. Both programs have experienced steep drop-offs in winning percentage since that contest, though it has been the fall of Florida State that has truly sent shockwaves through the college football landscape.
The Seminoles have cratered in the last four seasons, as four different coaches have presided over a 20-26 record since the start of the 2017 campaign. While first-year head coach Mike Norvell was brought in from Memphis this year with the reputation as an offensive wizard, Florida State ranks 104th nationally in points per game and 76th in yards per game.
With all this added together, there's a chance for Duke to achieve something Saturday not yet seen in 20 all-time meetings with the Seminoles: a victory.
“Obviously there’s history there, but Florida State’s just the next program on our schedule,” redshirt junior defensive end Chris Rumph II said. “We prepare for them just like we prepare for any other team and the plan and the goal is to win.”
One area of concern for Florida State (2-6, 1-6 in the ACC) is rust. The Seminoles have not taken the field since Nov. 14 at N.C. State, something that's sure to be a challenge for a program looking to get some momentum going under a brand-new coaching staff.
But as No. 9 Miami displayed in its 48-0 drubbing of Duke (2-8, 1-8) last Saturday, time off could also lead to a rejuvenated team, something that the Blue Devils will have to prepare for.
“We’re playing another team that’s been off a month, so you’re not sure what you’re going to get,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You know certainly you’re going to see a fresh Florida State football team.”
Their 2-6 record might indicate otherwise, but the Seminoles have some elite talent on the roster. While recruiting has dropped off since the Jimbo Fisher era, Florida State has still brought in top-25 classes in each of the last three years per 247Sports, though quarterback and offensive line have been notable holes in recent seasons.
Not all is completely lost under center, however. In the midst of this wacky and discouraging season, Norvell may have found his signal caller of the future in sophomore Jordan Travis. Since replacing senior James Blackman against Jacksonville State early in the season, Travis has opened up the offense with his dual-threat skill set.
The West Palm Beach, Fla., native has struggled in the passing game, completing just 52.2% of his attempts, but Duke has to be aware of the challenges a running quarterback like Travis could bring.
“You can’t let him get out of the pocket. You can’t let him extend plays, make plays with his feet,” Rumph said. “He’s an incredible athlete. We watched him—I saw the UNC game, he made a lot of great plays.”
The departure of three-year standout Tamorrion Terry Nov. 11 has left a gap in the wide receiving corps for Florida State, though juniors Ontaria Wilson and Camren McDonald are both capable of creating explosive plays and finishing drives in the red zone, helping make up for Terry's absence.
Defensively, the Seminoles rank 107th in points allowed per game, one spot ahead of Duke. Lopsided losses to then-No. 12 Miami and then-No. 5 Notre Dame proved just how far the Seminoles have fallen from the time when they could stop the run and get consistent pressure on an opposing quarterback with ease. At the same time, the talent Florida State still has on that side of the ball could break out at any moment.
“I just know that they’re a really good team,” Blue Devil running back Mataeo Durant said. “They fly around to the ball and we just have to go out there and just compete against them, because I know they’ll be coming to compete hard also.”
In what has been the continuing theme of Duke’s 2020 campaign, taking care of the ball must be part of the agenda if the Blue Devils have any hope of leaving Doak Campbell Stadium with a win. The Blue Devils' 35 giveaways this season rank last in the FBS and are 11 more than any other team.
Despite all the disappointment of this season, Duke has a chance to end it with a win that'll go in the Blue Devil record books and send seniors such as Deon Jackson, Victor Dimukeje and Noah Gray out in style, something that is surely an emphasis for the team entering Saturday.
“It’s been a difficult time throughout the season, but they’ve answered the bell,” Cutcliffe said. “One shot for our seniors, and that’s certainly a big part of our focus.”
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.