DURHAM — Duke’s offense will have a huge challenge when the No.20 Blue Devils take on No.1 Florida State for the ACC Championship on Saturday night in Charlotte.
The winning formula is pretty simple, but not easy.
Duke (10-2, 6-2 ACC), whose players have several times this season won the biggest games of their careers, just has to move the football and hold onto it.
For long stretches of time. Against a team that’s allowing 11 points a game and scoring 53.7, allowing 271 yards while generating 526.1.
That Florida State (12-0, 8-0) is a four-touchdown favorite against the best Duke team in three generations is no surprise. Florida State leads the series 18-0, with last season’s 48-7 decision in Tallahassee right in context.
But barring safeties, the Seminoles can’t score points while Duke has the ball.
“Without giving away a bunch of what we’re going to have to do, it’s obvious when you look at Florida State they disrupt people on defense,” said sixth-year Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who learned he repeated as ACC coach of the year during Tuesday’s press luncheon at the Brooks Practice Facility. “They create mistakes. You can’t make a bunch of mistakes against talented people.
“So we’ve got to be assignment error-free, we’ve got to take care of the football, and we have to execute.”
Cutcliffe, whose team has won eight consecutive games, wouldn’t speculate on how many points the Blue Devils might need to win the crown.
Duke has gotten to this point by being solid in most phases on most weekends. Offensively, wideout Jamison Crowder made first-team All-ACC while guard Laken Tomlinson was second team, tight end Braxton Deaver and tackle Perry Simmons third team and kicker Ross Martin honorable mention.
“Our entire season has been based on people telling us what we can’t do,” said Deaver, a redshirt junior out of Charlotte’s Providence High. “‘You’re the last in the ACC’ and – oh, that’s funny, now we’re the first in the Coastal. It’s nothing new, it’s nothing we haven’t experienced before. It’s just people telling us ‘It’s the Duke team.’ But we’re about to shock the world.
“We just have to execute better than we’ve executed this whole season. If we want any shot at this thing we’re going to have to play our butts off and make every play and compete at an unbelievable level.”
Quarterback Anthony Boone, a Monroe Weddington product who is one of five Duke offensive starters from the Charlotte area, said the Blue Devils simply have to keep doing what they’ve been doing – just better.
“I just have to execute,” Boone said. “Not try to do too much. Execute the game plan and try to be as consistent as possible, be smart with the football and try to move the chains.
“Nobody’s given us a chance all year. I wouldn’t consider that motivation, though. We just have to be the best Duke football team we can be.”
Senior guard and co-captain Dave Harding said he’s not worried about Duke’s preparation.
“Coach Cut has really laid out the way we’re going to win this game,” said Harding, part of an offensive front that has started every game together this season. “It’s been high-stakes football for us the last few weeks and it’s been fun.
“We’re going to have to play our best game, and we need to prepare like that all week. We just have to control the football and not give up turnovers. We need to play mistake-free, win the penalty battle and be able to run the ball and keep our drives alive.”
Josh Snead, a running back out of Smithfield-Selma, said having an improved running attack gives Duke a shot at beating almost anybody.
“It’s helped a lot that we can run the ball,” Snead said. “When you think about Duke (historically) you think ‘pass-heavy.’ (Cutcliffe) has coached a lot of great quarterbacks. But now we’ve been able to get a lot of great running backs.
“We have an experienced O-line. We feel with that chemistry we can go out and be physical and dominate any team in the running game.”