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FSU football: How the Seminoles and Blue Devils matchup in the trenches

Experience, talent, first rounders. These position groups have it all.

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Peyton Baker Baker/Tomahawk Nation

The Florida State Seminoles are Duke Blue Devils are set to slug it out Saturday night in Tallahassee. The game earned the 7:30 time slot and ESPN on ABC’s main crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on the call, as all eyes will be on the fourth-ranked Seminoles to see if they can continue their undefeated run against one of Duke’s best football teams in the modern era.

The game is brimming with breakout storyline potential on both sidelines.

For Florida State, take your pick, it could land on the rise of Michigan State Spartans wide receiver transfer Keon Coleman, the threat of his receiving partner Johnny Wilson, who returns from injury, or the Heisman campaign of quarterback Jordan Travis.

On the Blue Devils’ side, it’s the “will he/won’t he play” question about injured quarterback Riley Leonard, and if Mike Elko ends up starting his star, how will Leonard’s ankle hold up? Or you could speak to PFF’s top-graded cornerback, Myles Jones and the Blue Devil secondary and how they’ll line up against the talented Florida State receiving corps.

In the end, when the clock hits zeroes on Saturday night, the storylines will have written themselves and the stars will have risen to the top.

All these names could contribute to the final score, but in the end, this game may be won in another area. This game may come down to the trenches.

The Duke defensive front versus the Florida State offensive line

The Duke defensive line heads into Saturday’s matchup with 11.5 sacks on the season. Three-year starter DeWayne Carter leads the unit — his stats may not jump off the page, but the 6’3, 305-pound defensive tackle swallows up double teams, allowing his partners in crime to do damage. Carter sports a 74.2 defensive PFF grade.

Next to Carter is sixth-year senior Ja’Mion Franklin, who’s been noted as a standout by FSU offensive coordinator Alex Atkins. Franklin brings a 64.5 defensive PFF grade into Saturday night. Whereas Carter stays in and plays the majority of the snaps, Franklin will split reps with defensive disruptor, Aeneas Peebles. Another upperclass terror in the trenches, Peebles leads the defensive tackles with three sacks, leading to his 79.6 PFF grade.

Moving to the outside of the Duke front, FSU fans should familiarize themselves with RJ Oben (PFF 64.5) and his two and a half sacks. The redshirt senior will look to give the Seminole left tackles more than they can handle on Saturday. On the other end, finally, a youngster, redshirt freshman Wesley Williams (PFF 68.0), who’s seen his snap count steadily grow this season. The ends form a formidable duo that often lands one-on-one matchups due to the disruption from the tackles.

Duke’s front will line up against a Florida State offensive line that has been injured and inconsistent. Tackles Bless Harris and Robert Scott have missed multiple games, while do-everything lineman Darius Washington left the Syracuse game with an injury. Last we heard from the coaches, though, all are healthy and available for Saturday’s showdown. Can the Florida State offensive line finally gel and have success against the Blue Devils? The rise or fall of the FSU line could be the tell on how this game plays out.

If you look back to Duke’s win over the Clemson Tigers to kick off the season, you’ll see some reason for optimism for the Florida State run game. Despite the Blue Devils’ upset victory in Durham, the Tigers found success rushing the ball, especially in the third quarter. Running backs Will Shipley and Phil Mafah combined for 100 yards in the quarter before turnovers ultimately sunk the Tigers. For the contest, the backs averaged more than six yards per carry. Similarly, North Carolina State and Notre Dame both averaged over five yards per carry against Duke. The Seminoles are coming off their two best rushing performances of the season, and have the potential to take control of the game if the offensive line does its job against the veteran Blue Devils.

Then of course, there is the Jordan Travis factor. Although the FSU line is allowing a higher amount of pressure, JT’s ability to elude defenders and escape the pocket has cut down on the sacks. If the veteran signal-caller keeps the chains moving Saturday night, we could see Duke’s defense tire as the night progresses. Overall, how well FSU can or cannot prevent this talented Duke defensive front on Saturday night will be a deciding factor.

The veteran Duke offensive line versus Florida State’s talented front four

Duke is stacked with experience in several position groups, but none moreso than the offensive line. Senior left tackle Graham Barton is the anchor of this group and carries a PFF grade of 70.6. He’s already on several teams’ NFL Draft boards. Next to Barton is sixth-year senior Maurice McIntyre (PFF 55.0), fifth-year senior Scott Elliott (PFF 54.9), fifth-year senior Jacob Monk (PFF 61.1), and fifth-year senior Jake Hornibrook (PFF 59.5). The five starters will enter the Florida State game with more than 11,000 combined snaps. The Blue Devil rushing attack is averaging nearly 200 yards per game and has allowed just five sacks this season. Similar to the Florida State offensive line, the Duke front has allowed a high number of pressures, but like FSU, a mobile quarterback has kept the sack rate low. But if Riley Leonard plays, his injured ankle may allow the pressure to finally catch up to the Blue Devils.

Lining up against the veteran Duke offensive line is potentially the best defensive front they’ll battle all season. The Florida State Seminoles defensive line’s four starters plus Joshua Farmer (who sees an equal number of snaps as Fabien Lovett) have combined for six and a half sacks this season.

Defensive end Jared Verse has been a nightmare for opponents, boasting a 75.8 defensive PFF grade, scoring above 83 in two separate games. Opposite Verse is the improving Patrick Payton (PFF 60.5), whose length has allowed him to deflect four passes, including the potential Clemson game-winner. On the inside, Western Michigan transfer Braden Fiske (PFF 66) has a motor that rivals skill positions, while Fabien Lovett (PFF 75) and Joshua Farmer (PFF 71.2) routinely blow up running plays. If FSU is going to shut down this Duke offense, it all starts with these five players.

When the final whistle blows, the stars will get the publicity, the interviews, and the camera time. But the victory will be paved by whose big uglies play better. Win the trenches, win the day.

PFF CFB Scale: 90-100 Elite, 85-89 All-Conference, 70-84 Starter, 60-69 Backup, <60 replaceable

PFF (Pro Football Focus) is a sports analytic company that focuses on thorough analysis of the National Football League (NFL) and NCAA Division-1 football in the United States. PFF produces 0–100 Player Grades and a range of advanced statistics for teams and players by watching, charting, and grading every player on every play in every game both at the NFL and FBS level.