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FSU vs. Duke: Keys to victory, predictions

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Florida State (2-6, 1-6 ACC) enters it final home game of the 2020 football season as a five-point favorite over Duke (2-8, 1-8). The game will be televised by the ACC Network with kickoff set for 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Chris Cotter will handle the play-by-play with Mark Herzlich as the color analyst and Eric Wood as the sideline reporter. FSU has never lost to Duke in the 20 previous meetings between the schools.

Storylines

This will be the first game FSU has played since a loss to NC State on Nov. 14. With the NCAA not counting this season as a year of eligibility for student-athletes in football this may or may not be the last time Seminoles fans will see a group of seniors that includes Baveon Johnson, Janarius Robinson, Emmett Rice and Hamsah Nasirildeen. Of course, there is still a question as to how many scholarship players FSU will dress out due to coronavirus and contact tracing. FSU needs to win one of its last two games to avoid tying Syracuse for last place in the ACC standings. Coach Mike Norvell said more players have returned to practice in the week leading up to the Duke game.

Keys to Victory

Turf War – This game will more than likely be decided by which team has the most success running the ball. Neither team throws the ball particularly well but has had success on the ground. FSU must run the ball effectively against a Duke defense that has been porous against the run. Duke ranks 102nd in the country against the run, where it gives up an average of 202 yards per game. FSU is averaging 173 yards per game against its ACC foes this season and exceeding that average will greatly enhance FSU’s chances of winning. Running the ball successfully will also slow down Duke’s pass rush, where the Blue Devils feature two of the nation’s most productive defensive ends. Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje both rank among the top 11 college football’s sack leaders.

Conversely, FSU’s must stop the Blue Devils from doing what they do best, which is running the football. The Blue Devils feature two running backs who each have run for over 680 yards this season. FSU’s run defense had been improving over its last few games, against Pitt and NC State, despite the fact they have been playing without Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden. Shutting down the Duke running game will force the Blue Devils to do something they haven’t been able to do efficiently this season: Throw the ball. They rank 60th in passing offense but have completed just 56 percent of their passes this season. Duke ranks 100th in the nation in average yards completion (6.3 ypc) and no team has thrown more interceptions (16) this year than the Blue Devils. FSU will be thin depth-wise in the secondary, which may help Duke’s cause. But you still want to make them throw the ball to win.

Stay Healthy – FSU cannot afford to lose too many bodies to injury during the course of the game. The Seminoles are very thin on the offensive line, defensive back, nose tackle and defensive tackle. There have been times this year the Seminoles have listed over 60 players on the two-deep depth chart. That is not the case this week. FSU listed eight offensive linemen, nine defensive backs, four interior defensive linemeb and two scholarship quarterbacks on this week’s two-deep, assuming they get through Covid-19 testing and contact tracing without issues.

Shorten the Game – Because to the issues with depth, FSU needs to shorten this game as much as possible and not take an inordinate number of snaps on either side of the ball. You do this by running the ball effectively, bleeding the play clock on offense. FSU’s defense also needs to get the Blue Devils off the field by forcing Duke into a lot of third-and-long situations and limiting their success in those situations.

Predictions

Patrick Burnham – Florida State 35 Duke 21

Bob Ferrante – Florida State 38, Duke 31

Jerry Kutz – Florida State 28-Duke 21

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