Saturday may provide the Duke Blue Devils with their best chance to do something they have never done — beat the Florida State Seminoles. FSU limps into Doak Campbell Stadium having not played since Nov. 14 and with a record of just 2-6.
The Blue Devils have a similar record at 2-8. Last week, Duke was shut out by Miami in Durham, 48-0. It marked the first time that Duke had been blanked since 2008.
Saturday's contest was originally set for Wallace Wade Stadium, but COVID-19 issues at FSU forced the ACC to make significant schedule changes. Instead, Duke will play in Tallahassee for the first time since 2012. The Blue Devils are 0-20 all-time against the Seminoles. Only the most recent contest in 2017 was decided by fewer than 19 points.
Duke at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Florida State -5
When Duke Has the Ball
When it comes to offense, Saturday will feature two of the ACC's worst. Duke ranks 13th in the conference in scoring and total offense. Through 10 games this season, the Blue Devils have turned the ball over 35 times. That's more than anyone in the country and 11 more than the next closest team. Duke committed five turnovers in last week's loss to Miami.
Quarterback Chase Brice has been a big part of that, as he has an FBS-high 13 interceptions compared to just nine touchdowns. As a member of Clemson, however, Brice did play well in his last trip to Tallahassee in 2018, passing for 90 yards and a touchdown on seven pass attempts. And the strength for Duke lies in the backfield. Running backs Mataeo Durant and Deon Jackson have combined for more than 1,300 rushing yards and 12 of Duke's 25 total offensive touchdowns.
The good news for Duke is that Florida State's defense has been nothing short of dreadful. An inept defense will be even more short-handed this week with opt-outs, transfers, and injuries from the likes of Marvin Wilson, Asante Samuel Jr., Cory Durden, and Jaiden Lars-Woodbey. FSU ranks dead last in the ACC in total defense and just 13th in scoring defense. In ACC play, the Seminoles are allowing 37.9 points per contest.
For FSU to have success on Saturday, a big day from defensive ends Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh will be necessary. FSU has managed just 10 total sacks this season, but Duke has allowed 37 (fourth-most in FBS). With Wilson and Durden no longer an option in the middle, defensive tackle Robert Cooper will be tasked with providing a run-stopping presence. With 60 stops, linebacker Amari Gainer is the top tackler for the Seminoles. FSU recently got last season's leading tackler, Hamsah Nasirildeen, back from injury.
When Florida State Has the Ball
After missing the last six quarters of action, quarterback Jordan Travis will be back in the lineup for Florida State on Saturday. Travis has unquestionably sparked the offense this season. Travis has a long way to go as a passer but is perhaps the most dynamic runner that FSU has ever had behind center. In games where Travis plays more than a half this season, FSU is averaging 28.5 points. In games where he doesn't, that number drops to 15.5.
The bad news for Travis is that he'll be limited when it comes to playmakers. FSU's best running back, La'Damian Webb, has opted out while its best receiver, Tamorrion Terry, is no longer with the program. The duo of Jashaun Corbin and Lawrance Toafili, however, is still a good one in the backfield. Look for Ontaria Wilson and tight end Camren McDonald to be the top targets for the Seminoles in the passing game.
Only two teams in the ACC yield more points per game than Florida State. Duke is one of them. The Blue Devils are allowing 36.3 points per contest. Despite the many deficiencies on defense, Duke does have one of the best tandems of pass rushers in the ACC in Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje. The two each rank in the top three in the ACC with 15.5 combined sacks. Among ACC players, only Pittsburgh's Patrick Jones II has gotten to the quarterback more often than either of those two.
For Duke, the biggest area of difficulty has been stopping the run. The Blue Devils allow 202.1 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry. Last week, Miami rushed for 220 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. Sophomore Shaka Heyward is a promising young linebacker for Duke. He leads the team with 74 total tackles to go with three sacks. In the secondary, safety Michael Carter II and Jeremiah Lewis are tied for the team lead with two interceptions apiece.
Saturday's contest in Tallahassee isn't one that all eyes will be turning to, but it does present a real chance for two struggling teams to get a win. The matchup features moveable objects on defense and easily-stoppable forces on offense. One big difference, however, will be quarterback play. For an FSU team that has faced the likes of Sam Howell, Ian Book, and D'Eriq King, that's a position that the Seminoles look to have the advantage at for once. Travis should be able to make enough plays with his legs and arm for FSU to find success.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Duke 27
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.