DURHAM — Make no mistake: Florida State is bigger, faster and stronger than Duke.
Florida State has probably had the best recruiting classes the past few years, cornerback Ross Cockrell said. All we can do is continue to work hard and play hard. At the end of the day, athletic ability doesnt determine who is going to win a football game.
Now that its established that the Blue Devils are aware of the challenge that awaits them Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Tallahassee, the question becomes how do they overcome it?
The first thing most people tell you is cheat, Cutcliffe joked. But you cant do that. It puts a premium on your technique. Thats true in any sport. Were all going to be matched up at some point with superior people physically. The premium then comes on the fundamentals and the teamwork. Its a team sport. The execution, the will to prepare, the ability to focus for 60 minutes, the ability to play as hard as you can play for 60 minutes, you just have to make a commitment to all of the right things that make teams successful.
Once you get past that, you often need a little luck, and the ball to bounce the right way. But luck isnt going to help you if you havent done everything else right.
Every Duke player at the weekly media luncheon Tuesday Cockrell, running back Josh Snead, cornerback Tony Foster and offensive lineman Takoby Cofield echoed Cutcliffes thoughts. It comes down to technique.
Corners have to keep their feet moving and keep the receiver in front of them. Linemen have to stay in their rushing lanes. No offensive player can put the ball on the ground.
Foster had one other idea.
Thats where your film study comes in, he said. You try to pick up tendencies, tips, look at the guy in front of you and see what he can do, see what hes great at, is he a fast guy, is he a strong guy, and you just try to tweak your game to counter their game.
The preparation for teams like the Seminoles doesnt begin the week of the game, Cutcliffe said. It starts, really, in January, at the beginning of the year. All season, the Blue Devils have credited their summer workouts, which were more focused on football than conditioning, a change from years past. And already this year, the payoff has been clear, as Duke has already clinched its first bowl berth in 17 years.
Still, the challenge looms large. The two games to date featuring Dukes toughest physical opponents Stanford and Virginia Tech have also been the only true road games (a washed-out stadium at Wake Forest wasnt the same). The combination of hostile road atmosphere and physical superiority resulted in two blowout losses.
For the first quarter, Duke dominated the Hokies, becoming only the second opponent of the Frank Beamer era to score 20 points in the opening quarter. That lead faded quickly, but the fact that Duke could play that well for any stretch showed marked improvement.
The Seminoles will put that improvement to the test.
Theyre great, their technique is great, theyre big, theyre fast, theyre strong, Foster said of FSU. The good thing about us is that, in Dukes history, this is our biggest, fastest, strongest team weve had. We just have to compete and be fundamentally sound and let the results play out.