The Blue Devils finished with a season-low 289 yards in Saturday's 41-16 loss to Florida State, snapping their three-game winning streak.
''They are very athletic and I knew that, but I still thought our matchups were good,'' coach David Cutcliffe said. ''If we had been consistent on executing offensively, we could have kept that a close ball game. We just could not stay on the field.''
The Seminoles (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) managed to pressure Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, sacking him five times and batting several of his passes near the line of scrimmage. Renfree completed 26 of 43 passes for 226 yards. But Duke (3-3, 1-1) didn't manage to reach the end zone until Juwan Thompson ran for a 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, while Renfree threw a short touchdown pass to Cooper Helfet after the Blue Devils recovered an onside kick.
By then, though, Florida State led 34-3.
The struggles were a bit surprising, too, considering Florida State had allowed 834 yards in the past two losses to Clemson and Wake Forest.
''We definitely left a lot of plays out there,'' receiver Conner Vernon said. ''Guys were open and we just couldn't get them the ball.''
E.J. Manuel threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns for Florida State, including three 50-yard completions in the opening quarter that helped them take a 24-3 lead by early in the second quarter. Florida State had no trouble holding that lead, snapping a three-game losing streak with its first victory since a 62-10 romp over Charleston Southern on Sept. 10. The Seminoles also improved to 17-0 all-time against Duke.
Manuel also ran for 62 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 3-yard scoring pass to Nick O'Leary midway through the third quarter gave Florida State its largest lead at 34-3, then he answered the Thompson and Helfet touchdowns by scoring on a 6-yard keeper with 9:49 left. That made it 41-16, giving the Seminoles at least 40 points in all seven trips to Durham.
Strange as it sounds, FSU desperately needed to beat Duke to regroup. The Seminoles entered the year with hopes of contending for a national championship only to see them dashed by the end of September.
They beat overmatched opponents in their first two games and stood at No. 5 nationally heading into a home game with then-No. 1 Oklahoma. But Manuel sprained his left shoulder in the third quarter of that 23-13 loss, then missed the loss at Clemson before returning after the off week as a reserve at Wake Forest.
Manuel completed 19 of 35 throws for 286 yards and two scores, but he threw two interceptions as part of the Seminoles' five turnovers in last week's 35-30 loss that dropped them out of the rankings.
At least now Florida State has a conference win to build on.