Duke at Florida State preview and prediction

Mike Ehrmann

FSU welcomes Duke to Tallahassee in a showdown of ACC divisional leaders.

3:30 | ESPNU | Line: -27 | Note: homecoming

What They Did Last Week: Duke

Duke is bowl eligible! Duke beat North Carolina in one of the more thrilling games of the week. Duke jumped out to a 20-6 halftime lead only to see it disappear as UNC scored 21 points in the 4th quarter. Proving they are not every other Duke team that came before them, Duke drove the field and scored the go ahead touchdown with 13 seconds on the clock to beat UNC and take control of the Coastal Division


Weekend game watching guide!


What They Did Last Week: Florida State

Florida State beat Miami in a sloppy, turnover filled game. The Noles immediately put themselves in a hole with turnovers and a bad punt early on but were able to claw themselves to a 13-10 halftime lead. The fourth quarter was all FSU as the put up 17 points to put the game away. Unfortunately the win was costly as Chris Thompson was lost for the year.

v. Duke's Defense

Duke has been surprisingly consistent on defense this year but that probably speaks more to the offenses, or lack of, they have faced. But consistent does not mean good, as Duke is ranked 85th in defense. FSU should be able to do whatever it want against the Blue Devils. Duke will play a base Nickel defense to try and force the Noles to execute and work their way down the field but it remains to be seen if they can accomplish that. Expect Florida State to mix up the game plan and keep Duke guessing. The Noles should be able to push Duke around up front keeping E.J. Manuel clean and giving the backs (James Wilder Jr and Devonta Freeman) clear holes to read.

Wilder and Freeman will be getting more carries with Chris Thompson out for the year. Both have looked good in their time on the field, but how well they do in blitz pick up will determine who gets the lion's share of the carries going forward. If neither performs well Lonnie Pryor could see more time in the backfield when FSU goes to single back sets. Freeman took most all of the carries after Thompson went down against Miami but will that continue? Probably as FSU blocks outside well and Freeman runs better there than Wilder.

Duke has a very good corner back in redshirt junior Ross Cockrell. While the rest of the defense (and the team to the same extent) has seen an increase in talent, the experience is not there.

Goals:

- more than 8 yards a play before garbage time (480 yards on 60 plays, 560 yards on 70 plays, etc.)
- No more than 1 turnover
- 70% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Duke's Offense

Here is where Duke makes its money (47th nationally in offense). David Cutcliffe is an excellent quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator and Duke has steadily improved in this category. Duke relies on formations to create mismatches in space which is a great idea as most teams do not tackle well in space. FSU, however, is one of the better tackling teams in college football so Duke really needs its skill position players to play above their heads.

Cutcliffe will call a balanced game for Duke as long as it stays close with Sean Renfree looking to complete multiple short routes to his wide receivers. Those receivers have been successful at getting downfield in a hurry, especially Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder. Vernon already owns the ACC record for career receptions and is 94 yards from breaking Peter Warrick's ACC receiving record. Unfortunately Vernon was injured after UNC freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad hit him during a substitution (Rashad and two officials have been suspended one game for the hit) and may be dinged for this game.

Duke will run the ball but that is mostly to keep teams off balance. While Jela Duncan and Juwan Thompson are good backs, Duke just does not have the bodies up front to create holes for the backs. Duke will also run some wildcat and might trot out Anthony Boone (backup dual threat QB) for different looks.

Expect FSU to allow Duke to get the quick pass and tackle quickly. FSU has struggled at times with short crossing routes (most notably against NC State) so expect Duke to attack the linebackers with those sort of routes. FSU will likely continue to play Telvin Smith more in the Nickel package.

Florida State has been able to bring in younger players on defense early in recent games. Mario Edwards Jr and Karlos Williams have seen time against Boston College and Miami and both have shown flashes of what they can do. It looks like both are beginning to understand the defense to the point where they are either a help or wash and not a hindrance. Having Edwards join the rotation is crucial for FSU as they will need to rotate DEs and have not shown much confidence in older players like Toshmon Stevens and Giorgio Newberry.

Goals:

- less than 4.25 yards/play before garbage time (255 on 60, 298 on 70)
- Force 2 turnovers
- 50% or less TDs in the red zone

Special Teams

Special teams will likely fall FSU's way in this tilt. Tyler Hunter looks to get the start at punt returner as Rashad Green has struggled to field punts this year. FSU will likely have to fair catch most every punt as Duke will not want to give the Noles much chance in the return game. The Noles will have opportunities on kick offs as Duke is giving up returns on over half of its kicks and is not doing a great job of covering them.

Ross Martin is having an excellent year for Duke connecting on 14 of 15 field goals with a long of 43. While more than half of his kicks have been from inside 30 yards he has been very consistent as his only miss was from 39 yards in Duke's first game.

Sure Dustin Hopkins missed a field goal against Miami but did hit four others and is now 16-20 on the year. All of Hopkins' struggles have been from the right hash this year so watch those kicks in particular and if Fisher takes a different strategy on third and fourth downs because of this. Hopkins will likely have an opportunity to tie and/or pass the ACC career field goal record of 80. He currently sits at 79.

Prediction: FSU 48 - Duke 13

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