After not playing since 2007, the Blue Devils and Seminoles meet for the second year in a row on Saturday as 6-2 Duke travels to 7-1 Florida State. The match up features two first place ACC teams, as Duke leads the Coastal Division and Florida State is the front-runner in the Atlantic. Ranking near the top of the league in almost every category in all three phases of the game, the 'Noles will be a tough test for the bowl-bound Blue Devils.
To give us an inside look at the Seminoles and their 2012 season, BDN welcomes back Rich at ChantRant.
Florida State entered the 2012 season as a popular choice as a national championship contender. Their loss a few weeks ago seemed to quiet some of that talk. How have the players and coaches responded since their loss? What is the mood among the fan base; is there still hope for a national championship?
Derailed. That’s how every FSU fan I know took the loss to N.C. State and what it meant for any national championship hopes. In the past few weeks, the players have suggested that maybe they didn’t take the Wolfpack seriously enough. Linebacker Telvin Smith said this week that the N.C. State game proved “You can’t take it (the night) off against anybody.” So the Noles know they absolutely cannot afford to slip up or have a poor showing the rest of the season -- not if they want to be in a New Years day bowl and have the slightest chance of slipping into the championship talk. As for the fans, we’re just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, though still a bit leery of a team that still hasn’t played a complete game from start to finish this year.
Coach Cutcliffe feels that Florida State is one of the few teams in the country without a legitimate weakness. Sure enough, the Seminoles rank in the top ten in the country in total offense and total defense, and have one of the top placekickers in the country. Is there a weakness to this team? How did NC State manage to upset FSU?
The weakness is what I mentioned above: FSU has been hot and cold in pretty much every game throughout the season. Even against two FCS schools when the outcome was never in doubt, the offense (primarily) has been “streaky.” In the two biggest wins of the year -- Clemson and Miami -- both the offense and defense couldn’t match the opponents intensity at times. So an optimist would say this team is great at coming from behind.
At N.C. State, the Noles played strong in the first half and led 16-0 at the break. Then the second half was their downfall. Coach Fisher caught a barrage of criticism for going conservative -- playing not to lose -- on offense. Meanwhile, the defense couldn’t adjust to the Wolfpack crossing routes, giving up the winning score with seconds on the clock.
It's never a good thing for a team to lose a player as good as Chris Thompson, both on and off the field. How has the team taken his injury? What do you expect the Seminole offense to look like in his absence?
While Thompson has been the starter and leading rusher during the season, two other backs have been major contributors in kind of a “thunder and lightning” combination. The lightning is Devonta Freeman, a 5-8, 200lb. sophomore in the Chris Thompson mold. He hits an opening quickly and can slip through and around the second level. Fellow soph James Wilder, Jr., is the thunder. At 6-2, 220+ he loves to hammer defenses, using the stiff-arm to keep opponents away. Talk about loving contact -- Wilder said this week that part of his job is to “wear down (opposing) linebackers.” Bottom line: As long as these two stay healthy FSU’s run game should continue to be a threat.
The Seminoles have scored big on offense this year, but the most impressive numbers are the zeroes that the defense has put up consistently, holding half of their opponents to under 10 points, including two shutouts. Led by veteran linemen Cornelius Carradine and Bjoern Werner, the FSU defense is tops in the ACC and ranks 2nd against the run and 5th against the pass nationally. If you were an opposing offensive coordinator, how would you try to attack this defensive unit?
Exactly how N.C. State did. Obviously Wolfpack coaches saw a vulnerability in FSU’s secondary -- the inability to shutdown crossing routes -- and exploited it all night. I’d bet that Duke coaches have learned from that game film and are planning a similar attack. They’d be crazy not to. Nole fans were very disappointed that defensive coordinator Mark Stoops wasn’t able to adjust to the crossing routes (Telvin Smith said “that game kind of humbled me,” and “exposed trying to get our match-ups” right.) But FYI, in the last few weeks Stoops has shown a new defensive alignment called the “Six Pack” designed to stop those routes. It maximizes DB coverage and puts a bigger safety -- Karlos Williams, 6-2, 229 -- against tight ends dragging over the middle.
By my math, the Blue Devils have never come within three scores of the Seminoles, but 2012 has been anything but a typical year for Duke football. How do you expect the game in Tallahassee between the Atlantic and Coastal Division leaders to play out?
That all depends on FSU’s ability to play a complete game, or at least three strong quarters. It hasn’t happened yet, even in the highest stake games. Will the Noles “want” it more than Duke? They obviously didn’t against the Wolfpack and superior talent at most positions couldn’t carry the day. Asked about the Duke game, linebacker Telvin Smith said, “We’ve gotta bring our A game. Start with a bang and finish with a bang.”
Another factor is the physical. Will bodies that have been through eight straight weeks of pounding in games and practice (next week FSU finally has an open date) be up to the challenge of a Blue Devil team fighting to be in the ACC title game?
Unlike previous years, Nole fans know that without a strong effort -- both in getting up for the game and playing at a high level -- this one could slip away much like three weeks ago in Raleigh.