Oct. 26, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's been about as lopsided as can be. A perfect 17-0 record, a plus-581 points scoring margin and a halftime lead in every single meeting. Since the first game between the two programs in 1992, Florida State's dominance over Duke has been definitive.
But could this season be different?
The Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) come to Tallahassee for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against the No. 12 Seminoles (7-1, 4-1 ACC) unlike any of those previous 17 versions of themselves. They lead the ACC's Coastal Division and are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. They've eclipsed the 500-yards mark on offense twice this season and are second in the league in passing yardage per game.
Head coach David Cutcliffe has transformed his team into more than just an afterthought at the basketball-crazy university.
"[Duke has] a very dynamic passing attack [and has] done a super job on defense," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "[They] have an excellent punter and kicker. It will be a huge challenge for us this weekend. We'll have to bring our 'A' game."
Fisher has called talented Duke wide receiver Connor Vernon a "technician" because of his precision route-running and attention to detail. Vernon has been at the center of the Blue Devils' improved aerial attack this year along with Jamison Crowder.
The duo has combined to catch 102 passes this season and quarterback Sean Renfree has guided an offense that is registering 289.4 yards passing per game and 35 points per contest. As a team, the Blue Devils average 415.9 yards per game.
If the rest of the country isn't yet ready to realize that Duke is for real, Florida State's defense doesn't appear to have that same issue.
"A lot of people are still stuck on 'Duke is not good.' But actually they are very good," FSU linebacker Telvin Smith said. "They are leading the [Coastal Division] so we are going to be prepared and be ready for them."
The Seminoles are also ready to unveil a new punt returner.
Fisher announced this week that sophomore defensive back Tyler Hunter will return punts for the team against Duke. Hunter is replacing Rashad Greene, who fumbled a return out of bounds in FSU's 33-20 win at Miami last weekend and has struggled on special teams in recent weeks.
"Tyler's a 4.3 [40-yard dash] guy," Fisher said. "He has great [speed], you saw it when he had the interception return [against Miami]. Tyler's got great ball skills. When I first recruited him, I saw him while he was playing quarterback, and with that option up there at Lowndes [High School], he was breaking touchdown runs."
Hunter's ascension up the punt-return depth chart is more than just the 'Noles trying something new against a weaker opponent. It's about putting the best 11 players at each position on the field against a talented foe that presents a real road block on the Seminoles' journey to the conference title game.
And it's a road that FSU must take without its best offensive player, Chris Thompson.
FSU lost the talented tailback to a season-ending knee injury last weekend and had to rely on the legs of James Wilder, Jr. and Devonta Freeman to run them to victory against the Hurricanes. Wilder, Jr. will likely start the first game of his career Saturday against Duke with Freeman set to get his far amount of carries as well.
The Seminoles also have reliable fullback Lonnie Pryor to lean on as the senior has terrific ball-carrying abilities despite his primary role as a blocker.
"We feel comfortable in the depth at that situation," Fisher said.
Saturday's contest is part of Homecoming 2012 and will feature a variety of special events throughout the weekend. For a full list of events, be sure to check out the FSU vs. Duke F.A.Q.