Extra point: Inconsistent passing attack, tale of two halves highlight No. 20 Duke football's loss to Florida State

Florida State's potent offense was able to wear Duke out by the fourth quarter.
Florida State's potent offense was able to wear Duke out by the fourth quarter.

No. 20 Duke football took its first ACC loss of the season Saturday, falling to No. 4 Florida State by a score of 38-20. With three key takeaways, stats and a look ahead, the Blue Zone breaks down the game. 

Three key takeaways

1. A game of two halves

The score, with its 18-point margin, makes this game look like it was a blowout. Despite the final result, this one was close at the end of the first half. In fact, the two teams went into the locker rooms with the Blue Devils leading 20-17. Unfortunately for the visiting squad, the Seminoles opened up the game in the second half, scoring 21 unanswered points — all in the fourth quarter — en route to the blowout win. 

2. Two quarterbacks

One notable difference between Duke at the beginning of the game and Duke at the end is who was taking the snaps. Standout junior Riley Leonard began the game at quarterback, but went down with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter after a hard hit that was called a facemask. As a result of the injury, redshirt freshmen Henry Belin IV entered the game. Belin struggled to finish out the drive and all the subsequent campaigns, allowing the Seminoles to regain momentum and come out with the big win.

3. The defense is still good

Despite the score, it should be noted that the Blue Devil defense played very well against a high-flying Florida State offense. The fact that Duke led for a solid proportion of the game is due largely to a hard-nosed defensive effort that was astute in forcing turnovers and punts. Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis is probably one of the best in the country, and the Blue Devils managed to mostly contain him along with a talented supporting cast. A lot of Florida State points were the results of offensive plays wearing out the defense in the fourth quarter, and are not accurate reflections of what was largely an impressive performance against a very good Seminole attack.

Three key stats

1. 197 rushing yards

With Leonard hurting and Belin’s less-experienced arm, it was up to the running back room to get things done Saturday. For the large part, the ground team delivered. Junior Jaquez Moore led the charge with 110 yards and graduate students Jaylen Coleman and Jordan Waters tacked on another 30 and 39, respectively.  The offensive line did an excellent job opening up holes against a stellar Florida State interior group, and it allowed Moore to tear off some decent-length runs. 

2. 76 passing yards

Here we find the inevitable other side of the offensive coin. While the rushing attack was strong, the pass game was one of the worst Duke has put on this season. The Blue Devils completed just eight total passes on 22 combined attempts. Both quarterbacks struggled to hit even wide-open targets, and the game was rife with overthrows and mishaps. While a large proportion of the struggle can be dismissed as the result of Leonard’s injury, it will be a challenge to win other tough ACC games unless the pass game can recover. 

3. 57.3 yards per punt

One of the most consistent aspects of Duke’s game this year has been the punting. Graduate student Porter Wilson has been one of the best in the nation in terms of yardage, and he did not disappoint Saturday night. He had three punts, one of which went for a whopping 60 yards. The Blue Devils were able to pin the Seminoles deep in their own territory, which allowed for more creative defensive play calling and more than one near-safety. In conjunction with the defense, the long punts were a key factor in keeping this game close through the first half.

Looking ahead

Duke will hit the road again next weekend, traveling to Louisville, Ky. for a Saturday afternoon matchup against the No. 18 Cardinals. Louisville is a talented group with just one ACC loss, and it will be a tough game to win on the road. Ultimately, it will hinge on Leonard’s health. If the quarterback is playing close to 100% this is a winnable game. If not, it will be another battle in the trenches as the running backs look to grind out another win. No matter who is taking the snaps, this will be a high-octane battle against a very good conference opponent. 


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