Duke lost starting quarterback Sean Renfree to a concussion in the second quarter, and were forced to indoctrinate backup Anthony Boone against a Florida State defense that had the physicality, size, and depth of a professional outfit. Boone was clearly shellshocked, completing just 3-of-15 passes for 37 yards. Many of those 12 incomplete passes were throws that were way, way off-target.
And if you needed further proof that it just wasn't Duke's day? The freshman duo of Ross Martin and Will Monday had the worst performances of their young careers with Martin missing a 24 yard chip shot from the middle of the field…in true Florida State fashion, it was wide.
Things don't get any easier next week as the Blue Devils will head home to face preseason ACC contender, Clemson.
Here's some other takeaways…
1. Inability to stop the big play: There is little doubt the Seminoles had the advantage in both depth and top end talent. Head coach David Cutcliffe said as much during the week leading up to the game when he acknowledged that Duke would need a lot of breaks to "just have a chance". And the distance between the top end Seminole players and their Duke counterparts was enough to allow Florida State to start the game with a 71 yard touchdown less than a minute into the game. The next FSU score? A 75 yard punt return.
Perhaps the most illustrative stat line of the night was starting quarterback E.J. Manuel who finished eight of 16 for 282 yards and two touchdowns. That's an average of 17.6 yards every time Manuel attempted a pass. And when he completed a throw? It was 35.3 yards every time. In contrast, Anthony Boone passed for 37 yards. Total.
And just as Duke couldn't stop the big play, the Blue Devil offense couldn't generate any either. On third down the team was just 4-of-18.
2. Penalties and Turnovers: Heading down to FSU, the Blue Devils were one of the least penalized teams in the conference. Against the Seminoles the Blue Devils were whistled a season high 10 times for 95 yards. Several holding calls, and a couple of false starts as the offensive line did all it could to protect the quarterback(s) from the various headhunters on the other side.
The flip side of that was Duke's ability to force turnover - albeit after the game was decided and Florida State was cruising. Still, the Blue Devils stripped four fumbles in the second half and recovered each one of them. It's a testament that Duke kept fighting and kept trying to make plays. Of course the other side of the argument was that a couple of those fumbles were after the Seminoles had moved well down the field on a big pass before the receiver(s) got careless.
3. Kicking game woes: A week after they were both instrumental in winning against North Carolina, both Martin and Will Monday struggled in their first encounters with Florida State. Monday averaged just 40.5 yards per kick - though he did have 12 attempts. Meanwhile, Martin missed something not much longer than an extra point.
It wasn't just the kickers who struggled either. The coverage unit surrendered the 75 yard touchdown, but did manage to limit Florida State to just 11.8 yards per return after that.
4. No pressure on Florida State's offensive backfield: The Seminole offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all afternoon long. Not only did Duke not record a sack, there was only one quarterback hurry by the Blue Devil defensive line. As far as the defensive line recording tackles? Outside of Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo's six tackles, the entire rotation logged just four stops the entire afternoon. That number suggests the Seminoles were getting into the second and third levels (or worse) of the defense without much trouble.
The guys who stepped up on the afternoon included freshman Dwayne Norman who recorded a career high 13 stops, two fumble recoveries, and forced another fumble. Fellow safeties Jordon Byas and Walt Canty combined for 17 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and one forced fumble
5. The Silver Lining: Duke still controls their own fate as far as a shot at a spot in Charlotte for the ACC Championship. That's the good news. The bad news is that they'd likely end up playing Florida State again.