This must be some make believe world that we are living in right now with the 6-2, bowl-eligible Duke Blue Devils coming to Tallahassee for what could be a preview of the ACC Championship in December. After defeating archrival North Carolina in Chapel Hill last weekend, Duke controls their own destiny in the Coastal Division. Head coach David Cutcliffe has his squad playing their best football in over a decade. With that said, there is a reason that FSU is a 28-point favorite. There is not one matchup on the field that favors Duke on paper, but FSU still has to prove it on the field. With the bye week on the horizon before a trip to Blacksburg, FSU needs to impress this weekend with a dominating win over Duke.
Duke Offense vs. Florida State Defense
Make no mistake about it; Duke's quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Conner Vernon are one of the best duos in the league. The senior signal-caller is a prototypical Cutcliffe quarterback. He likes to make quick reads and get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible. Renfree leads the ACC in passing, and is 17th nationally, completing just fewer than 70% of his passes. However, Duke's two losses this season came on the road against the two of the best defenses they have seen all season.
Stanford and Virginia Tech's defensive units, though, are simply not comparable to the animal that is the Florida State defense, ranked 2nd nationally. Expect Duke to try to spread the field, which FSU will counter with a lot of nickel and dime packages. It's hard to envision Duke having success on the ground with an average weight of 285 lbs. on the offensive line. Expect the FSU defensive backs to play right at the line of scrimmage, jam the wide receivers, and rely on the defensive line to get pressure in the backfield.
FSU Offense vs. Duke Defense
This side of the ball presents a laundry list of problems for the Blue Devils. Duke's defense is ranked 68th nationally giving up an average of 396 yards per game, and the FSU offense is ranked 10th nationally averaging 520 yards per game. However there is one area of uncertainty for the Seminoles; how will James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman do filling the void left from senior Chris Thompson suffering a season-ending ACL tear.
Expect the rushing attack for FSU to have a much different identity because Thompson really excelled in different areas. Losing Thompson obviously takes away the home-run threat at all times. I don't see FSU trying to run to the outside as much with Freeman and Wilder. Also, another point of interest for FSU fans should be how the two young backs' do in pass protection. This is one area that many people fail to realize just how effective Thompson was. Quarterback E.J. Manuel has shown signs in the past that when he gets hit early in a game he tends to lose confidence in his blockers and is much more likely to try to force balls in tight areas of the field as opposed to progressing through all of his reads. The key for FSU in this matchup is to have success early, keep EJ upright, and establish the run game.
FSU has to stay sound in their assignments, and not try to do anything out of the ordinary. If the Seminoles can just be themselves, not commit an absurd number of penalties, and avoid turning the ball over, this game will get out of hand rather quickly.