FSU is averaging 33.8 points per game in the first half -- even after the Blue Devils kept last year's game close (3-3 early in the second quarter). In 11 meetings between the pair, Duke has led only three times, all in the first quarter.
Making matters worse for Duke, the Blue Devils have been plagued by sluggish starts this season.
They got away with the slow start two weeks ago, rallying from a 14-3 deficit against Rice to pull out a 27-24 overtime victory. But that wasn't the case last Saturday, when Northwestern blew out to a 14-0 lead on its way to a 28-10 victory.
Duke coach Carl Franks said his defense has underachieved through four games and has been lining up incorrectly on certain plays. In fact, consecutive opponents have pinned game-opening scoring drives on the Blue Devils.
Despite Duke‘s glaring deficiencies, FSU offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden is more concerned about his unit's production heading into Saturday's game at Wallace Wade Stadium.
FSU enters averaging 33.2 points per game, up 2.6 points from last season's average of 30.6. The ‘Noles are coming off a season-high 47-point effort against Colorado, relying primarily on the pass as the Buffs employed single coverage and concentrated on slowing the run.
Bowden expects the Blue Devils to mix their defensive schemes. Duke, which has allowed at least 44 points per game in all 11 defeats to the Seminoles, is allowing an ACC-worst 5.0 yards a rush and 210 yards a game on the ground.
"They can play off and play a two-deep shell, which we know and make us throw everything underneath. Or they can just come right after you," Bowden said.
"It seems like every year they… they are going to go from one extreme to the other. Play off or come after you real hard. And they do it all. They have to. It gives them a chance to compete and hang in there. They've got some real nasty blitzes. When we get blitzed, we are going to have to execute, throw under duress. We are going to have to make plays."
FSU has certainly made its share of plays thus far this season. In fact, kicker Xavier Beitia has scored more points (31) than the Seminoles' first four opponents (30).
Still, Bowden continues to search for improvement, especially with second-ranked Miami on the horizon.
"Just better execution. Lock onto our blocks and finish blocks. We've got to be fundamentally better offensively," Bowden said.
A lot of… poor route running and finishing blocks. We are not getting enough decleaters right now. That's the main thing. If we will concentrate on those things. We have a good feel for what Duke's doing. We have to be aware of changeups, they may come, we shall see. Our game plan is not going to change. If they are going to load it up, we are going to try to throw it.
"To me, you just continue to look for consistency and improvement. I think in a four-game stretch, I thought we got better from first to second game, then we took a step back (against Georgia Tech), then we got better again. It's a little inconsistent to me. But, the fact that we played poorly one game and got better, that's encouraging. Improvement. I am seeing improvement."
Of course, FSU is also looking for better red-zone production after settling on a career-high four field goals from Beitia against Colorado. Although averaging 6.2 yards per play, FSU has converted 36-percent of its third-down conversions (19 of 53). Bowden says opponents have done a good job of tripping up the Seminoles with new looks on the goal line.
"We get more looks. … I don't think we've been on the goal line yet where we got a look that we prepared our kids for because everyone has changed," Bowden said.
"Whatever we've expected we haven't got on the goal line. I don't think from a coverage standpoint we've gotten anything not prepared for. Goal line mainly. There have been some looks in short yardage that have given us problems, but not all the time."
Bowden also would like better play from his receivers. While Craphonso Thorpe and P.K. Sam enjoyed career efforts against Colorado, Bowden, also the team's receivers coach, says the unit must be better fundamentally.
I got on their butt pretty good (Wednesday) in the meeting," Bowden said.
"While they went out and played good and from a fans' standpoint everything looks good, there are some things that…coverage being a little tighter, they might not have gotten away with some of the things they got away with Saturday. Coverage just became so loose in the game that we could get away with some small mistakes. That concerns me.
"Then I watched practice (Tuesday) and we weren't correcting some of the things that we did wrong in the game. Then I got after ‘em pretty good. It looked like they worked their tails off, but did they work their technique better? It's one thing to give effort but it's another thing to do what you do correctly and hard."