Commentary

Tudor: Devils need to dodge physical beating at FSU

ctudor@newsobserver.comOctober 27, 2012 

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Duke head coach David Cutcliffe gets a dousing by players as time runs off the clock and Duke beats UNC 33-30 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. Saturday October 20, 2012.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

This is where it gets dicey for Duke.

No one thinks the Blue Devils can back up last week’s benchmark win over North Carolina with another over Florida State.

That’s not really the point. It’s fun to think about but even without running back Chris Thompson (season-ending knee injury), the Seminoles should win by three or four touchdowns.

Coach David Cutcliffe has done an incredible job by virtually levitating what was the nation’s worst BCS-level program into a six-win, bowl qualifier.

But the overriding challenge for Cutcliffe and his players now is maintaining enough steam to avoid a 6-6 regular-season finish. In other words, a four-game losing streak against Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami after the trip Saturday to Tallahassee.

And although the Clemson (Nov. 3) and Miami (Nov. 24) games will be played in Durham, there’s every reason to think the Blue Devils will not be favored in another game this season.

There are several keys to avoiding a four-game skid, but the most important is simply surviving Florida State.

The last thing Duke needs against FSU is a loss and a beating to boot. The team’s key players – quarterback Sean Renfree, wideout Conner Vernon, handyman Brandon Connette, defenders Jamal Wallace and Dezmond Johnson, plus several others – have been taking standing eight-counts for several weeks.

Any chance of turning a possible 6-6 record into 7-5 or 8-4 requires keeping the primary playmakers up and running.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t yet produced a great team. He may never do it. The dynamic has changed at FSU. Most of the players on the 2012 roster can’t remember a time when the Seminoles were among the best two or three teams in the country year after year.

But what Fisher and staff have been able to do is restore the emphasis on physical play, which has to concern Cutcliffe as much or more than anything else.

Starting with quarterback E.J. Manuel (6-5 245), there’s a lot less finesse in FSU’s offense than was the case during Fisher’s first two seasons as coach or the final four or five years of Bobby Bowden’s tenure.

A return to big, physical tactics is in tune with what Fisher saw in the Southeastern Conference during his six seasons at LSU.

“We’re not as physical as we want to be eventually, but we’re getting there,” Fisher said recently.

Duke is bigger and stronger, too. This may be most physical Blue Devil team since Mike McGee’s coaching run in the 1970s.

In Duke’s favor is the fact that there will be an open date the week before going to Georgia Tech (Nov. 7) and facing Paul Johnson’s wishbone.

The Devils have shocked the football world, but they still need to find a way to squeeze out at least one more surprise. Otherwise, that win over UNC will soon seem like a distant memory.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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