Duke comes into this contest dead-last in the conference in total offense. Their 223.1 yard average is 116th out of 117 teams in Division-1 football. Still the Devils are not without some weapons. The Devils can run the football. They are currently 9th in the league averaging 142.4 yards per game on the ground. Tailback Justin Boyle leads the ground attack with 60 yards and nearly 1 touchdown per game. Duke also has a home run hitter in Ronnie Drummer, who has two runs this season over 50 yards and also has a 100-yard kickoff return TD to his credit.
The Achilles'' heel for the Duke offense has been the complete and utter lack of a passing game. Duke is 116th in the country in passing offense. The only team below it, Rice, is a pure option team that doesn't throw the ball much. The bulk of this challenge falls on true freshman QB Zack Asack, who is coming off a dismal 9-27 passing effort last week. Duke does have a few receiving options in Marcus Jones, Eron Riley, Ben Patrick and Andy Roland. Asack must find a way to deliver the ball on target in a timely manner to these players. If he can find a rhythm, there is success to be had through the air.
Of course, the Duke offense will have to earn every yard it gains this week as they will face the ACC's 4th best defense statistically. Do not let this ranking fool you, as 4th place in the ACC is good for 15th overall in the country. The Seminoles lead the conference in team sacks, with DE Kamerion Wimbley as the ACC's individual leader. The FSU linebackers are as good as any in the country, with A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims leading the charge. Both are outstanding two-way players, stuffing the run and defending the pass with equal skill. This front seven compose the ACC's #2 run defense, giving up only 93.2 yards per game on the ground. If the Duke offense is going to move the ball with any consistency this week, it will need to be through the air.
When FSU has the ball:
The Seminoles came into 2005 with a big question mark at quarterback. After struggling early, redshirt freshman Drew Weatherford has seized the job and is giving FSU solid, if not spectacular, play from the position. FSU looked to be one of the conferences best running teams this season with the tandem of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker in the backfield. Instead Weatherford has turned the Noles into the ACC's best passing offense, averaging 266 yards per game. Conversely, FSU is 10th in the conference in rushing, averaging slightly over 100 yards per game. The struggles in the running game can be attributed to both a pass-heavy offensive philosophy and injuries on the offensive line. The Noles are not getting a good push up front when running the ball. They are still dangerous, however, and Duke will have to stop run first. If not, it will be a long day.
The Blue Devils are not without a few injuries of their own, and most seem to be in the front seven. Starting DT Brian Sallee dressed but did not play against Georgia Tech. His return for this game is questionable. Replacing him in the lineup is true freshman Clifford Respress, who did a good job creating havoc in the Tech backfield. He seems to be really coming on of late. The other starting DT, Casey Camero, is battling an unspecified injury and super-frosh Vince Oghobaase has still yet to play a down this year because of off-season knee surgery. At linebacker, former starter Codey Lowe is still bothered by a high-ankle sprain suffered last month. He is slowly working his way back into the rotation, and provides Duke with a stout run-stuffer in the middle. His replacement, true freshman Mike Brown has shown flashes of brilliance, but is also making some mental mistakes characteristic of a freshman playing in the ACC. If Duke can get healthy, the front seven will be able to hold the FSU running game in check.
The big test for the Duke defense will be in the secondary. The Devils are only giving up 182 yards per game in the air, but this statistic is misleading. Opponents are averaging 7.7 yards per pass attempt which is tied for last in the conference. Duke must do a better job in coverage, especially on the deep throws which have been the bane of the defense all year. CB John Talley has really played well the last 4-5 games, and should be able to handle the receiver on his side of the field. Deonto McCormick must stick with his receiver on the other side, and safeties Brian Greene and Chris Davis must provide support over the top.
Regardless of how FSU's special teams have been playing, it is highly unlikely they have been performing worse than Duke's. The Blue Devil coverage units, especially on kickoffs, have been very disappointing. Last year, the Devils led the country in kick coverage. This year, with almost the exact same personnel, they are last in the conference. If Duke allows FSU great field position or points on the kickoff returns, it will be a long day for the men in blue. One bright spot for the Devils has been the punting of Chris Sprague. It would be nice to see less of him, however, as he has already surpassed the 50 punt mark on the season.
Duke Keys to the Game (Movie Titles – New releases):
"The Fog": Duke has been in a season-long fog on offense. While the running game has produced some results, opponents do not have to respect the pass. If that happens, the defense will eventually cut off the running game with extra personnel in the box. Duke must somehow loosen up the FSU linebackers and safeties with some passes, otherwise the Noles will tee off on the running game and Duke will continue to get plenty of reps in covering punts.
"Domino": The Devils have a nasty habit of compounding one mistake with a slew of others. This domino effect usually happens shortly after halftime and usually turns a close halftime score into a blowout. Head Coach Ted Roof must keep the team focused and fired up, even when they make a mistake or two. If not, FSU will turn those mistakes into a quick 21-28 points and the game will then be out of reach.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played": There is no doubt that Duke is a big underdog this week. They will have to play superior football in every phase of the game. No mistakes, no dropped passes, and a few breaks would all be nice. If all of these things come together, this could end up being the greatest game ever played by Duke.
Matchup to Watch: FSU DE Kamerion Wimbley vs. Duke LT Lav Bauta
For Duke to have a chance this weekend, QB Zack Asack will need to have a good day throwing the ball. To make this as easy as possible, the Duke offensive line must give him time to survey the field and find the open receiver. FSU's Wimbley is adept at causing havoc in the backfield and getting to the QB. He will most likely be matched up with Duke's Bauta, probably the most improved player on offense from last season. Bauta is small for a tackle (280 pounds), but can move his feet and has exceptional strength. FSU will come after Duke with blitzes from various angles, which will probably leave Bauta matched up one-on-one with Wimbley. If Bauta can't handle him, Asack will spend a lot of time on his back.
There are no delusions of grandeur here. Duke will need to play a perfect game against FSU to have a chance. They cannot afford to turn the ball over, and must create a few of their own. The Blue Devil passing game must be working well enough to get FSU to take their linebackers and safeties out of the box. If not, the Duke offense doesn't have a chance. On the other side of the ball, the Duke defense must keep everything in front of them. They cannot allow FSU to score easy points over the top. When the Noles complete a pass, the Devil defenders must get to the ball carrier and wrap up. With the skill athletes that FSU has, broken tackles can break your back.
What will happen? Duke will come out of the tunnel ready to play and keep the score respectable through the first half. The 3rd quarter will continue to be the bane of Duke's existence as FSU will put together a long drive or two, and the Duke offense will get stuffed enough times to flip the field position. With the Devil defense having to constantly defend a short field, they will eventually wilt under the pressure. The Noles will pull away in the second half and cruise to victory.
FSU – 45
Duke – 13