Previewing Duke vs. Florida State

After a near-upset over SEC powerhouse Alabama last weekend, the Duke Blue Devils return to Durham to kick off four game homestand. The first contest will pit the Devils against Florida State.

The Seminoles will be making their second straight trip to the Triangle. The last one proved to be a disappointment as they were defeated by NC State last Thursday in Raleigh. They will undoubtedly be looking to take their frustrations out on the winless Blue Devils. Does Duke have enough to make this a competitive game? Let's take a look at the matchups.

When Duke has the ball:
Out of nowhere, the Duke running game sprung to life last week. The 201 yards accumulated on the ground exceeded the combined total of the first four games of the season. The reasons for the new-found success are two-fold. One, the offensive line which had performed quite poorly in previous games finally was able to open some holes. Two, the running backs were able to find the holes and hit them in timely fashion. This week against FSU, Duke will surely look to build upon the success of a week ago and establish the run early. Expect Justin Boyle and Re'Quan Boyette to get most of the carries.

If Duke is to stay in the game, however, they must do a better job passing the ball. When Alabama stacked the line and took away the running game, the Devils were unable to make them pay by throwing the ball. FSU is well-known for their aggressive pressure defense which can cause offenses like Duke to wilt. The Seminoles will surely see the Alabama tape and stack the line early, forcing the Devils to do what they were unable to do last week. The linebacker corps, led by all-ACC candidate Buster Davis, is very fast and tackles well. Duke will be hard pressed to reach 200 yards on the ground for the second week in a row.

The silver lining for Duke, however, is that they have proven capable of throwing the ball this season. Earlier in the season against Wake Forest, freshman QB Thaddeus Lewis racked up over 300 yards passing. In his first start, he showed poise, a great throwing arm, and the ability to check down to his second and third receivers. He has struggled since, but he does have the ability to be successful at the college level. He also has some good receivers to throw the ball to. QB/WR Marcus Jones has seen time out wide the past two contest and has proven to be a reliable receiving option. Junior Jomar Wright along with sophomores Eron Riley and Raphael Chestnut give the Devils their best set of receivers in quite some time. The weak link in the FSU defense this season has been their pass coverage. Specifically speaking, their diminutive cornerbacks are having issues guarding bigger receivers. With Jones and Riley at 6'3" and 6'4" respectively, and Wright being one of the most physical receivers in the league, the FSU cover men might find themselves having trouble guarding these large targets. Duke would be wise to test these matchups early.

When FSU has the ball:
The Seminoles are struggling a bit on offense under OC Jeff Bowden. The Noles used to spread teams out and sling the ball all over the field. In recent years, however, they have become much more conservative, preferring to be a short pass and running offense. This might be traced to inconsistencies at the QB position that FSU has been facing since Chris Weinke won the Heisman six years ago. The helm of the offense is currently being manned by sophomore Drew Weatherford. Statistically speaking, he has not been a bad player for FSU. Still, the Noles lack the big-play explosiveness they have had in past years. Surprisingly, FSU is 4th in the conference is passing offense. They will probably improve on that standing this weekend. Duke has been quite stout against the run this year, but has had trouble in coverage on passing downs. The defense has committed to getting to the QB, which they are doing a much better job of recently. When the blitz is picked up, however, the defense is left in man coverage with little safety help. Against a team with great skill at receiver like FSU, this is a recipe for disaster. Despite the danger, expect Duke to continue their blitzing ways. The best chance for victory is to get rushers in Weatherford's face and force him to make mistakes.

Matchup to watch:
Duke offensive line vs. FSU defensive line

The Duke OL probably played their best game of the season against Alabama last week. They were able to open some running lanes for the backs, and only allowed one sack on the evening. Against FSU, however, the Devils will face top-notch athletes that are better than what they faced a week ago. They will be pinning their ears back and coming after the QB in passing downs. It is up to the offensive line to execute their assignments and not allow the defensive front to get consistent pressure in the backfield.

Duke's Three Keys to the game:

Duke specialists – The Devils have had to endure some serious kicking issues this season. They are dead last in the ACC in gross punting and net punting, and also last in FG percentage. Last game, Duke switched up the punting, trying out walk-on senior Randy DeSmyter. He struggled mightily and this cost Duke field position. Expect to see Alex Feinberg handing the punting chores once again. The placekicking also cost Duke a chance to take the lead in the 4th quarter. Kicker Joe Surgan is only 2-7 in field goals this year, and has missed every kick to the right. If Surgan cannot correct his kicking woes, Duke will be forced to take some chances on offense they would not have to if Surgan were a reliable option.

Manageable third downs: The Blue Devil offense experience success for many reasons Saturday, but one of the hidden factors was the offenses success at staying out of 3rd and long situations. The difference between 3rd and 3 versus 3rd and 8 is immense. On 3rd and long, the play is almost assuredly going to be a pass and the defense sets up accordingly. With 3rd and short, the offense has the entire playbook at its disposal and it makes the defenses' job tougher. If Duke can keep itself in manageable 3rd down situations for most of the day, they will score points.

Second half adjustments: Many times during the tenure of Ted Roof, Duke has kept better opponents close until halftime. The 3rd quarter, however, usually turns into an unmitigated disaster for the Devils. The staff needs to do a better job of getting the team prepared for final 30 minutes, both schematically and mentally.

Final Analysis:
The overriding question is, which Duke team will show up? Will it be the one that stood toe-to-toe with Alabama for 50 minutes of last week's game, or will it be the team that got its doors blown off just two weeks ago by a pedestrian UVA squad. One of the most frustrating things about recent renditions of Duke football is the inconsistency from week to week. You have a team that can match-up with an Alabama, yet get shut out by a 1-AA team. Predicting which Duke team will show up is a crapshoot at best.

On paper, this appears to be quite the mismatch when you compare the FSU defense against the Duke offense. FSU will undoubtedly stack the tackle box to stop the run. They will use an assortment of run blitzes to clog up the lone of scrimmage. On passing downs, the Devils will almost assuredly be blitzed on every attempt, forcing the freshman QB to make quick decisions in the passing game. The Seminole defense will try to play tight man coverage, daring receivers to beat them one on one. The good news for Duke is that the receiving corps has the ability to take advantage of the short FSU corners. Now whether or not Lewis will have time to get them the ball will dictate the success and failure of the Duke passing game. The Duke defense will be able to bottle up the FSU running game, but Weatherford will have his way with the Duke secondary. The Devils will make some plays on defense and give a valiant effort. FSU's defense, however, will force Duke into some bad turnovers and the Seminole special teams will come up with at least one big play. There is too much working against Duke in this matchup, and they will have to wait for another day to taste their first victory of 2006.

Predicted Final score:

Florida State – 34
Duke - 7


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