They’ll also be facing a potentially vulnerable 11th-ranked Seminoles team that’s lost star running back Chris Thompson for the rest of the season due to a torn left ACL.
On the surface, Coastal Division-leading Duke (6-2, 3-1) needs all the help it can get heading into Tallahassee as heavy underdogs, despite the injury to Thompson. It is 0-17 all-time against Florida State, hasn’t beaten a ranked team since 1994 and hasn’t won a road game versus a ranked foe since 1971.
However, these aren’t your normally bottom-feeding Blue Devils - both in performance and attitude. They’re bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years after a thrilling 33-30 win over rival North Carolina last Saturday, a victory capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder with 13 seconds remaining.
Duke, though, has much loftier goals.
“We know we wanted to go bowling, but this (isn’t) it,” said running back Josh Snead, who rushed 15 times for 99 yards. “We (have) our eyes set on winning this division and going to the ACC championship, and then going bowling.”
The Blue Devils will get a nice boost, and likely more recognition as a legitimate contender for a major bowl, by ending their losing streak to Atlantic Division-leading Florida State (7-1, 4-1).
“I don’t think we’re going to come out of here satisfied,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “I think this team realizes that it can win if it plays well every time we get on the field.”
The Seminoles likely will present a tough challenge coming off a 33-20 victory over Miami last Saturday, though they’ll have to play without one of their top offensive contributors moving forward.
Thompson was on pace to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996, but he suffered his second season-ending injury in as many years and finishes with 687. He broke two vertebrae in the team’s fifth game last season.
“This game takes no prisoners,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s a very unforgiving game. You have to move on, you have to adjust.”
Fisher said James Wilder (6.0 yards per carry, team-high seven touchdowns) will be the No. 1 back, and Devonta Freeman also will help carry the running game while quarterback EJ Manuel guides an offense averaging an ACC-best 520.1 total yards.
“It goes back to the goals you set and the things you want to be. It’s part of football,” Fisher said. “The second half of the season, that’s when the bangs, the bruises, the mental conditioning, all those things, you have to start to push through.”
Freeman rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown while Manuel threw a pair of TD passes to go along with two rushing scores in a 41-16 victory over Duke in the last meeting Oct. 15, 2011.
The Blue Devils likely will need a better defensive effort this time around, though they have given up an average of 466.7 yards over their last three games. However, they’ve forced 15 turnovers, which are tied for second-most in the conference.
“We’ve got a great Duke team coming in (that is) playing good defense,” Fisher said. “They’re not giving up the big play and have big guys on the defensive front.”
The superior defensive team, though, remains Florida State, which ranks second in the nation allowing an average of 226.5 total yards. Duke may have a tough time matching last week’s 510-yard performance, its best against an FBS team since gaining 517 yards versus North Carolina State on Nov. 3, 2001.
Florida State heads into a matchup with Duke ranked for the first time in four meetings and not since the No. 11 Seminoles won 55-24 on Oct. 22, 2005.