Oct. 15, 2011
DURHAM, N.C. -- Forget about the perceived quality of the opponent. The Florida State football program needed this outcome Saturday in Durham, N.C.
In a 41-16 win over historically hapless Duke, the Seminoles displayed noteworthy improvement in a variety of areas that had crippled the season up to this point and had the garnet and gold on a 35-day winless streak.
The 'Noles (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved to 17-0 all-time against the Blue Devils (3-3, 1-1) because they ran the football, avoided a large number of penalties and put pressure on the quarterback better than they had in three consecutive losses.
FSU had just 428 yards rushing through five games but more than doubled that at Wallace Wade Stadium with 242 yards on the ground. True freshman Devonta Freeman was the star of that ground game as he became the first Seminole to eclipse the 100-yard mark in 2011 with 109 on the day.
"He has a great deal of strength, a great deal of power and a great deal of speed," quarterback EJ Manuel said. "Devonta is a very smart young man so I am proud of him. He had a great game today."
Playing healthy for the first time since he went down in the third quarter of the Oklahoma game, Manuel ran for 64 yards and two scores and had to throw the ball just 14 times for nine completions, 239 yards and two touchdowns.
With Manuel at the helm, Florida State racked up 481 yards of offense compared to Duke's 289.
As for the penalties, the Seminoles were flagged just five times for 59 yards. Still not an ideal number but a vast improvement for a team that before Saturday's win was ranked last in the nation with just over nine infractions per game.
The penalty cut-down coincided with a resurgence in the pass rush. FSU sacked Duke quarterback Sean Renfree a season-best five times.
Defensively, the Seminoles still had some breakdowns but bottled up the Blue Devils overall. Renfree threw for 224 yards and one touchdown but averaged just 5.4 yards per completion and had a first-quarter interception at the hands of Everett Dawkins. Duke also had just 69 yards rushing.
Most importantly from an FSU standpoint, the Seminoles held their opponent to just 5-of-17 on third down conversions. Duke did convert three of their five fourth-down attempts when it was in second-half desperation mode.
"It feels good to get back on the winning track," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Nothing like winning; don't take it ever for granted. It makes a big difference."
The Seminoles started the game by doing something they hand't done much of through the first few games of the season: force a turnover.
On third down, Bjoern Werner tipped Renfree's pass and Dawkins snagged the ball out of the air for the interception and fantastic FSU field position. The early turnover then led to a Dustin Hopkins 27-yard field goal and 3-0 FSU lead.
After Duke added its own 38-yard field goal on the next drive, Manuel got to work with Green and found him on a 59-yard bomb down to the one yard-line. A play later, Manuel burrowed his way into the endzone for a 10-3 Seminoles lead.
It was a similar recipe the next time that the 'Noles got the ball, except this time a long Manuel pass went all the way for the score. The 50-yard arcing toss to Smith was thrown from inside the pocket by Manuel and pushed the Seminoles' advantage to 17-3 late in the first quarter.
The opening period was all about Manuel's propensity for the deep ball but the second quarter started with a little ground work. Freeman pushed the score to 23-3 with his 10-yard touchdown run and then Hopkins tied the FSU record for consecutive extra points with his 108th conversion in a row.
Hopkins then tacked on a 48-yard field goal as time expired and the Seminoles took a halftime lead into the break for the first time since the game against Charleston Southern early in the season.
Duke started off the second half with a successful onside kick but the feel-good moment quickly evaporated following Bradham's first-down sack and Terrence Brooks' pass break-up on a fourth-and-two.
On FSU's ensuing drive, Freeman then gained 39 yards on seven carries, O'Leary snared a three-yard touchdown reception and Hopkins set the extra-point record to extend the lead to 34-3.
The Blue Devils finally found pay dirt on the first play of the fourth quarter. Greg Dent's fumble had helped spark a 44-yard Duke drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run to trim the score to 34-10 with a full quarter still to play.
In a shade of deja vu, Duke converted another onside kick on their very next attempt and used that momentum boost to score a touchdown once again.
After failing to score on their two-point conversion, the Blue Devils again -- yes, again -- tried another onside kick and this time it was field by the Seminoles. The gamble came at a price as Manuel capped off a short scoring drive with his untouched run into the endzone from six yards out put the Seminoles on top 41-16 with 9:49 left to play.
Florida State finally has a home game for the first time since Sept. 17 when the Maryland Terrapins come to town this Saturday.
A game-time announcement will be made Sunday afternoon.