Coming off one of the most exciting games in recent memory, Duke matched up with ACC powerhouse Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday. Despite leading the Coastal Division, the Blue Devils were overpowered by the Seminoles’ talented offense. Here is an assessment of Duke’s successes and failures of the game.
Pass: The passing attack was crippled by the loss of starting quarterback Sean Renfree, who began to hit his stride late in the second quarter before being knocked out of the game on a hard hit. Once backup Anthony Boone came in, Duke managed to gain 37 yards in the air for the rest of the game. Receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder were nonexistent, combining for five catches and 28 yards. Duke cannot rely on the pass against more athletic and defensively strong teams like Florida State and Saturday was certainly an example of this.
Rush: After a great game against UNC, the Duke rushers returned to their less than stellar form. Duke managed to gain only 103 yards on the ground, though the Blue Devils’ only touchdown came on a rushing play to Jela Duncan. Junior back Juwan Thompson was sidelined by a ferocious helmet-to-helmet hit during the drive in which Renfree would later be injured. Without the third prong of the rushing attack, Duke was unable to do much on the ground and that hurt the overall offensive production without a consistent passing presence.
X’s and O’s: The Blue Devil offense was hampered by injuries to key players, and the alternatives to starters Thompson and Renfree could not put up much of an offensive threat. Duke needs to learn how to find some sort of offensive rhythm regardless of the personnel on the field. The Blue Devils, though they maintained possession for a longer period of time and had no turnovers, had 11 fewer first downs than Florida State and converted on only four of their 18 third down attempts. The deep threat of Vernon or Crowder may not have been available, but for a team trying to establish itself in the ACC, Duke needs to learn how to gain yardage consistently and develop drives.
Pass: Seminole quarterback EJ Manuel completed only 50 percent of his passes, but racked up 282 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Duke’s secondary play is not terrible. The problem is the large chunk yardage plays. The Blue Devils have had trouble this season holding opponents from big passing plays especially early in the game. Florida State struck first on a 71-yard reception and never looked back. Duke’s pass defense will need to improve its coverage down field. Simple as this may sound, it will be difficult to accomplish considering the Blue Devil’s rushing defense deficiency.
Rush: The Blue Devils front line needs to improve if the team hopes to succeed for the rest of the season. Duke gave up 261 yards on the ground over 47 carries from Florida State. The Seminoles exploited the Blue Devils at the point of attack and were able to gain solid yardage throughout the game. Running back Devonta Freeman ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns over 12 carries. The Blue Devils cannot allow such production from an opposing back and hope to have the chance to win crucial ACC conference games against Georgia Tech and Miami.
X’s and O’s: The only reason Duke’s defense gets a “C” grade is due to the fact that the Blue Devils caused four turnovers on Saturday. Despite their ability to hamper Florida State’s high-octane offense, Duke did not get any help from the offense, which gave the Seminoles too many possessions. Even though the defense was put into a difficult situation, the Blue Devils need to improve their play on third down and their discipline overall after allowing Florida State to convert on 8-of-12 third down attempts and giving up 95 yards from penalties. The numbers tell it all; the Seminoles had 560 yards of total offense and 48 points.
Special Teams: C-
Special teams is typically an area Duke finds ways to succeed in. Saturday was not one of those games. Kicker Ross Martin missed his only field goal attempt and punter Will Monday had twelve punts on the day. Though Monday was consistent, the Blue Devils gave up a costly touchdown return on a punt in the first quarter. Coming into the second half, an unsuccessful onside kick gave Duke a serious disadvantage to begin the third quarter. The Blue Devils need special teams to provide a spark that was not there Saturday in future games to help propel the team forward.