Florida State's defense did enough by itself Saturday night to keep the Seminoles unbeaten.
B.J. Ward blocked two field goals for the Seminoles (5-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who got rushing touchdowns from three players and improved to 12-0 in the series.
The Seminoles allowed 185 first-half yards, but held Duke (2-3, 0-2) to 90 total yards after the break. They finished with 11 tackles-for-losses and scored two defensive touchdowns for the first time in four years.
``The defense came out not intense,'' coach Bobby Bowden said. ``In the second half, our defense got very intense and you saw what a difference it makes. They outscored them.''
Chris Douglas had a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter for Duke, which lost a record 27th straight ACC game.
Florida State scored touchdowns on its first three drives and took a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Seminoles widened their lead three plays into the second half in unusual fashion. Nicholson scooped up Mike Schneider's fumble at the Blue Devils 23, fumbled it en route to the end zone, but picked it up in stride and scored. He was credited with a 3-yard TD return for a 35-7 lead.
Nicholson, a North Carolina native, was making his first start at linebacker in front of many friends and family.
``It always helps when the defense can get on the board because it helps the offense out,'' he said. ``We don't want to put a whole lot of strain on the offense. It's always key for us to make turnovers and make plays.''
Cromartie added a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles last scored two defensive touchdowns in a 42-11 win against North Carolina State in 1999.
It's hard to imagine a more balanced effort from the Seminoles, though some of the players might not agree.
``We can always do better,'' said Donnie Carter, who had a 7-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. ``We should've scored anywhere from 70 to 80 points tonight.''
Things won't get much easier for the Blue Devils. After winning two straight games for the first time in five years, they have lost two straight heading into a stretch that includes home games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State, and road games at Maryland and Tennessee. All four teams have been ranked this season.
``It became tough when we knew we had to throw a lot,'' Duke coach Carl Franks said. ``We had a chance to put up some points on the board, but we just couldn't take advantage.''
The Seminoles had 157 yards on their first 15 plays, including a 53-yard run by Greg Jones and a 50-yard pass from Rix to Donnie Carter, en route to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
On its first drive, Florida State marched 80 yards in five plays - keyed by Jones' big run - to take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard run by B.J. Dean just 97 seconds into the game.
Florida State's next drive went 92 yards, ending with a 2-yard run from Jones with 6:30 left in the quarter. The Blue Devils aided that drive with a roughing-the-kicker penalty, giving the Seminoles a first down.
Duke responded with an 82-yard touchdown drive, ending with Douglas' 10-yard score that cut the deficit to 14-7 with 1:17 left in the quarter.
But Florida State wouldn't let Duke build any momentum. Cromartie returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards, and the Seminoles pushed the lead to 21-7 on Willie Reid's 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter.
Just before halftime, Rix completed a 43-yard TD pass to Craphonso Thorpe, who outjumped a defender to make a spectacular catch, for the 28-7 lead at the break.
Duke had its chances to keep the game close, but came up empty on two second-quarter drives. On the first, Ward blocked Brett Garber's 43-yard field-goal attempt. On the second, Schneider lost a fumbled to end a 53-yard drive. Ward also blocked Garber's 42-yard attempt in the third quarter.