TALLAHASSEE -- Duke’s dream season went careening into a wall on Saturday afternoon. After getting bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994 and coming off a big win the previous weekend over rival UNC, the Blue Devils ran into a much better, more athletic Florida State team and got blown out 48-7.
All season, No. 11 Florida State (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has looked untouchable at home. Going into Saturday the Seminoles were averaging more than 600 yards of offense and 55 points per game at Doak Campbell Stadium.
That trend continued. Florida State was narrowly off its pace, scoring 48 points on Duke (6-3, 3-2) while racking up 560 total yards of offense.
“I was very proud of our guys today,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I was proud of the way we came out of the gate. We played very well early in the game — offense, defense and special teams. We established a tempo in the game, very much through the first two possessions of the second half.”
Florida State came out poised. After forcing Duke to punt on its opening possession, it took just three offensive plays before redshirt senior quarterback EJ Manuel found sophomore wide receiver Rashad Greene for a 71-yard touchdown.
The score put Florida State up 7-0 quickly, and the Seminoles were just getting started.
After trading subsequent possessions in the first quarter, Tyler Hunter fielded a Duke punt at the FSU 25 and raced 75 yards for a score to put Florida State up 14-0 just more than 10 minutes into the game.
That was all the advantage the Seminoles would need for the day.
“I just trusted my blockers,” said Hunter, who replaced Greene as the team’s punt returner this past week. “I knew if a guy got close my guy would take him out, so I trusted him and caught it and followed my blocks until the end zone.”
While Hunter’s punt return was impressive, Florida State was sloppy at times in the homecoming win.
Manuel was just 8 of 16. He threw for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but also missed several open receivers and lost a fumble in the first quarter. Manuel struggled to find a consistent rhythm but was able to do just enough, connecting on several deep shots that loosened the box and helped Florida State establish the run.
“[It helped] tremendously,” Manuel said of the team’s ability to hit deep passes; he connected on four throws of 25 yards or more on Saturday. “A lot of those gaps, those guys were able to cut back. They were trying to play me on my fakes and things like that on the bootleg, so that kind of opened up the cut backs for our backs. They did a great job of seeing it.”
Despite being without senior leader Chris Thompson (lost for the season with a torn ACL), Florida State’s running backs had little problem dictating the tempo of the game.
Lead by Devonta Freeman’s 104 yards and two touchdowns, the Seminoles racked up 261 yards on the ground.
“I thought they were good. In pass pro they were good and running the ball,” Fisher said . “[Freeman] was really running it. He had a nice trap down there on a third-and-10. He had nice balance.”
Defensively, Florida State surrendered just 232 yards, 90 of which — along with all seven of Duke’s points — came on one penalty-extended series in the second quarter. Beyond that, the FSU defense was swarming, holding Duke standout wide receiver Conner Vernon (Miami Gulliver Prep) to three catches for 12 yards while knocking quarterback Sean Renfree out of the game with a concussion.
Next, after playing nine games in nine weeks, the Seminoles have the weekend off before travelling to Blacksburg, Va., for an ACC battle with Virginia Tech on Thursday, Nov. 8.