Oct. 27, 2012
By: Brandon Mellor (@BrandonMellor), Seminoles.com Managing Editor
FSU’s talented sideline-to-sideline linebacker finished the night with 11 total tackles and three tackles for loss.
Florida State only had to punt once against Duke on Saturday.
EJ Manuel averaged just over 35 yards per completion against the Blue Devils.
The Seminoles had nine kick returns for 576 yards.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On a day when an NC State loss to North Carolina put No. 12 Florida State in the driver’s seat of the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the Seminoles pounded surprising Coastal Division leader Duke, 48-7, at Doak Campbell Stadium.
FSU (8-1, 5-1 ACC), which now controls its own destiny with two conference games remaining this season because of the Tar Heels’ triumph, moved to 18-0 all time against the Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2) thanks to an offense that exploded for 560 yards and a defense that allowed just 232.
The Seminoles were able to score at least 40 points for the 16th time in the 18-game series behind an offensive attack that was featured an equal dose of the deep ball and the running game.
EJ Manuel averaged a little more than 35 yards per completion as his 8-of-16 night resulted in 282 yards and two touchdowns — one to Rashad Greene and another to Kelvin Benjamin. Rodney Smith finished with a career-best 112 yards and Benjamin had 77.
“Definitely going into it we knew we wanted to establish the run,” Manuel said, “and at the same time with our passing game, take shots down the field and allow our receivers to go out there and make plays.”
Wilder, Jr. got the start and carried the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a score while Freeman ran 12 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. The latter averaged a staggering 8.7 yards per carry en route to becoming the fourth different FSU player this season to hit the century mark in rushing yards (Wilder, Jr., Lonnie Pryor and Thompson were the others).
FSU finished the night with 261 yards — the sixth time this year that the ‘Noles have run for at least 200 in a game after accomplishing that feat just twice last year.
“It’s a great rotation,” Wilder, Jr. said about the tailback tandem that Freeman called FSU’s one-two punch. “We call it ‘Young, Wild and Free.’ That’s our little slogan. It’s our time. We just go out there and do what we have to do. The o-line gave us great blocks and cut-back lanes.”
While FSU’s offense was racking up big yards, the defense was preventing Duke from doing much of the same. The Blue Devils entered the game with the ACC’s second most potent passing attack with an average of nearly 290 yards through the air each game.
But Florida State’s constent pressure despite not registering a single sack — Cornellius Carradine had a career-high four quarterback hurries — and multiple looks on defense confused Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree enough that he threw for just 92 yards before being knocked out by Karlos Williams in the second quarter. He was replaced by Anthony Boone but the backup didn’t fare much better and the visitors finished with just 129 yards passing to go along with 103 yards on the ground.
Christian Jones led all FSU tacklers with 11 stops.
Duke receiver Connor Vernon needed just 94 yards to break former FSU star Peter Warrick’s ACC record for career receiving yards but FSU let him catch just three passes for 12 yards Saturday night.
|Christian Jones Interview|
“I think Peter should thank us for that,” FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said with a wry smile afterwards.
FSU corralled Duke’s longtime receiver but the Blue Devils couldn’t do the same to the Seminoles’ new punt returner.
Sophomore Tyler Hunter replaced Rashad Greene in that position this week at practice and after two punts out of bounds early, the first one he fielded he took to the house from 75 yards away jn the first quarter. The “special” special teams play wasn’t lost on Dustin Hopkins two quarters later as the senior set the ACC’s all-time field goal record as his 81st sailed a career-long 56 yards.
“I think [FSU] is the best team in the country,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “I’ve been around this a long time.I don’t think they have a weakness.”
If there is one thing that counteracts Cutcliffe’s high praise, it’s FSU’s ball security.
The Seminoles fumbled the ball away four times against the Blue Devils, including three consecutive giveaways in the second half.
“We do ball security at the beginning of practice every day,” Fisher said. “We are going to fix that. I can’t tolerate that.”
FSU needed just three plays to show Duke the avalanche of offense that was headed its way. Manuel’s 71-yard touchdown toss to Greene with less than four minutes into the fourth quarter was the receiver’s longest scoring catch of his career.
After Manuel’s fumble on FSU’s next drive, the ‘Noles defense forced what would turn out to be the punt that Hunter returned for a score. The 14-0 lead then increased to 17-0 on a Hopkins 26-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
Just like the first quarter, a three-play scoring drive then kicked off the second frame for Florida State. After Manuel found Smith for a 52-yard gain, back-to-back Wilder, Jr. runs resulted in a one-yard touchdown dive for the team’s new starting tailback.
Up 24-0, FSU then used a six-play drive to tack on another rushing score; this time a Freeman nine-yard dash to make it 31-0 with 11:09 to pay in the half.
The Seminoles’ 31 unanswered points coincided with an 0-for-5 streak on third-down conversion attempts by the Blue Devils. But Duke, which had never been shut out despite losing all 17 of its previous games to FSU, converted two third-down plays on its own ensuing drive and scored a nine-yard rushing touchdown at the end of14-play drive to make it 31-7 going into the half.
To start the second half, Duke then tried to catch the ‘Noles off-guard with an onside kick attempt. But Jarred Haggins smartly called for a fair catch on the short but high kick and interference was called a result. Two plays later, the short field had evaporated as Freeman ran for 14 yards and a 38-7 FSU lead less than 30 seconds into the third quarter.
Three minutes later, Benjamin hauled in a 35-yard touchdown grab from Manuel before the ‘Noles had three consecutive drives stall because of lost fumbles. Hopkins later added his record-beaking field goal.
FSU now has a much-needed bye week before a critical Thursday-night game at Virginia Tech Nov. 8.
“We’re going to have our ‘A’ game to go up there and play,” Fisher said. “They’ll be ready for us.”