Desperate teams to square off in Durham
Two ACC teams in desperate need of a win will square off this Saturday in Durham as Florida State pays its first visit to Duke since 2011. At 1-3, the Seminoles are off to their worst start since 1976 — Bobby Bowden's first year as head coach. After a 4-0 start, Duke has looked downright dismal offensively in losses to Miami and Virginia.
While the College Football Playoff and an ACC title — two realistic goals for FSU heading into the year — might be out the window, the Seminoles are trying to make a bowl for a 36th straight season, and to do that, they need five more wins. Duke, at 4-2, is just two wins shy of a fifth bowl appearance in six years, which speaks to the job head coach David Cutcliffe has done in Durham.
Saturday's contest will be the first between the schools since the 2013 ACC Championship Game, which the Seminoles won 45-7 en route to a perfect season and third national title. Among schools that were in the ACC when FSU entered the conference in 1992, Duke is the only one it has never lost to. FSU is 19-0 against Duke, with the closest victory coming by 19 points in 2007 — a contest that was later vacated.
Florida State at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Florida State -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Duke's Daniel Jones
After a tremendous start to the 2017 season, the Blue Devils' sophomore quarterback has been hit with a dose of reality over the last couple weeks. In losses to Miami and Virginia, Jones (above, right) has completed just 42 percent of his passes and thrown for a grand total of just 290 yards.
Jones will be facing a talented FSU secondary this week, which is led by redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James and junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden. The Seminoles have been stout against the run this season and will likely make a concerted effort to force Jones to win the game with his arm. Mobile quarterbacks like Jones have given the Seminoles problems this year, although FSU did a nice job keeping Miami's Malik Rosier in check last week.
2. James Blackman vs. the Duke Secondary
Although last week's contest with Miami didn't end in a victory, Blackman showed a lot of growth for the Seminoles. Although the true freshman quarterback was intercepted twice, he led three fourth-quarter scoring drives to put the Seminoles in front. Since Blackman took over for an injured Deondre Francois on Sept. 23, head coach Jimbo Fisher has been conservative with his young quarterback early in games. After he performed well late in contests in each of the last two weeks against Wake Forest and Miami, it will be interesting to see if FSU is willing to let Blackman try to stretch the defense earlier in contests.
The Duke secondary is pretty effective, but perhaps the better term is opportunistic. Duke leads the ACC with 10 interceptions, including four that have been returned for touchdowns. Cornerbacks Byron Fields Jr. and Mark Gilbert are tied for second in the ACC in interceptions with three, while Alonzo Saxton has played well from his safety spot this season. If there's a knock on the secondary for the Blue Devils, it's that it has had a propensity to give up big plays. Although receivers like Keith Gavin, Auden Tate and George Campbell are banged up, the Seminoles should be able to take some shots on Saturday.
3. FSU O-line vs. Duke D-line
It seems like Florida State's maligned offensive line faces a very good defensive line every week, and that will again be the case on Saturday. Thanks to an outstanding front led by defensive tackle Mike Ramsay, Duke ranks seventh nationally against the run and is second in the ACC in sacks behind only Clemson. In addition to Ramsay, who should be a load for FSU's interior, freshmen defensive ends Drew Crawford and Victor Dimukeje have brought good pressure from the edge and will be a tough assignment for FSU tackles Rick Leonard and Derrick Kelly.
FSU is coming off its best rushing effort of the season, accounting for more than 200 yards against Miami with backs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers each having solid days. The Seminoles will have their work cut out for them against Duke, but being able to run the ball effectively could curtail some blitzing from the Blue Devils and allow Blackman to get comfortable in the pocket.
With an 0-18 record against Florida State, Saturday may present the best opportunity yet for Duke to get its first win against the Seminoles. Coming off a rivalry loss to Miami, it may be hard for FSU to get off the mat against a team it was supposed to roll over prior to the year. Although the start has not been ideal for FSU, head coach Jimbo Fisher has never been one to let a season spiral out of control. Duke has some favorable matchups and the home crowd for Saturday's game, but Florida State is desperate and more talented.
Prediction: Florida State 23, Duke 13