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October 12, 2006

Florida State at Duke scouting report

Duke's first two home games of the season have been complete disasters, with the Blue Devils failing to score a point in hapless losses to Richmond and Virginia.

Wallace Wade Stadium has been a house of horrors in 2006, and on paper it looks like chances are good it won't get any better this weekend, but Duke can shake the college football world if the Devils find a formula to upset Florida State.

Devils Illustrated gives the weekly scouting report on this week's opponent.

QUARTERBACK

Neither team has had the type of success throwing the ball it would like. Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford has completed 60 percent of his passes but the aerial attack has been pretty low power by FSU standards. Weatherford has drawn criticism for holding onto the football too long and being too conservative in his decision making, causing some fans to call for backup Xavier Lee. Lee has reportedly taken increased snaps with the first team offense in practice this week. Duke had some good moments in the passing game last week, but Thaddeus Lewis threw a pair of interceptions and had a very poor completion percentage. Weatherford clearly has the experience edge over Lewis and is a better pure pocket passer, but Duke's strong willed freshman broke through on the ground last week with an impressive rushing touchdown and an additional 11-yard scramble. We'll give the advantage to Weatherford, but it wouldn't completely shock us to see Lewis rise up with a good performance.

EDGE: Small Florida State

RUNNING BACKS

Last week, I spent this section arguing basically that Alabama had far superior backfield talent than Duke. Naturally, the Blue Devils came out and made me look foolish when they piled up more than 200 rushing yards against Alabama. Requan Boyette showed his big play ability and the offense clearly benefited from having a healthy combo of Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer. Florida State has two great talents in Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith, but so far neither one has gotten it going. Smith had a good outing against Duke last year but Booker was a nonfactor. On paper, FSU has the better players, but Duke has better depth and better recent production (FSU had just 96 rushing yards against NC State). It's a close call, but FSU is a slim pick here.

EDGE: Small Florida State

RECEIVERS

Florida State hasn't lit up the scoreboard with its passing game, but the Seminoles have had a very balanced attack. Five players have tallied more than 150 receiving yards so far this season, with De'Cody Fagg's 17 catches for 206 yards leading the unit. True freshman tight end Brandon Warren is starting to become a bigger factor in the offense, which is going to make defending the perimeter threats more difficult. Warren caught a touchdown pass against NC State and is averaging 11.2 yards per catch. Duke can't match the overall size and athleticism of FSU's receivers, but the Blue Devils have had some good development this year at the pass catching positions. Eron Riley has been steady, while Jomar Wright and Raphael Chestnut have each shown their playmaking potential. To match evenly with the 'Noles though, all of Duke's weapons would have to be clicking on the same day. So far, that hasn't happened.

EDGE: Medium Florida State

OFFENSIVE LINE

Both teams have had some problems in pass protection, but the 10 sacks allowed by Florida State are partially attributable to some poor decisions by Weatherford. Whispers from Tallahassee are that FSU's offensive line is just not up to snuff with some of the program's past lines. The rushing numbers bear that out. FSU focused a ton of attention on the line in last year's recruiting class because the ranks had been depleted so much. The potential is there for a solid unit, particularly with senior Mario Henderson and standout junior college transfer Shannon Boatman holding down the tackle positions, but so far the consistent production has been missing. Duke knows all about O-Line struggles. The Blue Devils had been a mess up front until an excellent performance last week on the road at Alabama. Repeating that effort will be difficult, but it was good to see the ability that is present when the group is all on the same page and executes. The stats don't lie though. Duke has still allowed 24 sacks this year, and it will take more than one good outing to really start changing some minds.

EDGE: Medium Florida State

DEFENSIVE LINE

Florida State's defensive front will come limping into Wallace Wade Stadium for this week's game. Defensive tackle Emmanuel Dunbar has been out since injuring his back against Troy and nose guard Paul Griffin is also out. That has required defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews to do a lot of reshuffling, including having some players change positions and some youngsters climbing up the depth chart. The Seminoles' youngsters are still very talented, but the injuries have robbed the defensive front of depth, and it showed in the second half of the loss at NC State. Duke's D-Line played well again last week against Alabama, but also closed the game meekly by allowing the Crimson Tide a late touchdown drive entirely on the ground. Even with Eli Nichols out of the lineup, the Blue Devils still have a better depth situation than Florida State, although the Seminoles have an edge in athleticism. Both lines will be relying on several inexperienced players this weekend, which makes predicting the positional battle next to impossible.

EDGE: Even

LINEBACKERS

FSU has been completely decimated by injuries at linebacker. The top three linebackers are still in one piece, but the depth behind Buster Davis, Lawrence Timmons, and Geno Hayes has been basically wiped out. That means the top trio is being forced to play with very little rest. Davis played every defensive snap of the loss to NC State. The situation has been so difficult that linebackers coach Kevin Steele has called it a 'crisis.' Freshman Dekoda Watson has been moved back to linebacker to help fill the ranks after previously being moved to defensive end for the same reason. Duke's linebackers are coming off a solid outing last week. Codey Lowe had a pair of sacks and Jeramy Edwards and Mike Tauiliili combined for 17 stops. Florida State has a clear talent edge when looking at just the top three players, but injuries have forced the Seminoles to alter a lot of their 3-4 looks, so the overall edge is diminished somewhat. However, playmakers like Davis, Timmons, and Hayes are few and far between. Duke better hope those three guys get tired.

EDGE: Medium Florida State

SECONDARY

Again, injuries have severely hurt the FSU pass defense. Sophomore cornerback Tony Carter missed the NC State game after suffering a knee sprain against Rice. His availability for the Duke game is not known, but if he can't go then FSU's secondary just isn't the same. If Carter had been on the field against the Wolfpack, chances are good FSU would have salted that game away when it had a 20-10 lead. As of early this week, the starting corners were listed as redshirt freshman Jamie Robinson and sophomore Michael Ray Garvin. NC State picked on the Seminoles' secondary to the tune of three touchdown passes in last week's upset. Prize freshman Myron Rolle is starting at safety for FSU and he recorded eight tackles against the Wolfpack. Duke's secondary has had some ups and downs this year but has largely underachieved. It's downfall has been allowing too many big plays through the air, either by losing battles for the ball, taking a bad angle, or just flat out getting beat. The fact is neither secondary really scares anybody right now, but Florida State has overall better playmaking potential. FSU ranks sixth in the ACC in pass defense while Duke ranks next to last.

EDGE: Small Florida State

SPECIAL TEAMS

Duke's field goal misadventures continued last week, a theme that is beginning to sound like a broken record. Sophomore Joe Surgan appears to have lost confidence, but at least he is kicking the ball off better and giving Duke's coverage unit a chance to make a play. After Randy DeSmyter got the starting nod punting the football against Alabama last week, he promptly had a pair of shanks and gave way to Alex Feinberg, who we expect will get his customary start against FSU. Duke's special teams hopes against the Seminoles may hinge on Jabari Marshall and Leon Wright. Duke needs a big play from one of them in the return game to really have an opportunity to put a scare into FSU. Florida State's return game has been lacking pop this year. Chris Davis will handle punt returns while Joslin Shaw will probably be the primary kick returner. The Seminoles have a huge advantage at kicker with Gary Cismesia. Cismesia has hit on eight of his nine attempts this year.

EDGE: Medium Florida State

OVERALL

Duke's best chance at an upset will materialize if the Blue Devils can get a big play on special teams and protect the football enough to keep the game competitive into the second half. Florida State's depth issues may come into play if Duke can continue to hang around within striking distance. The Blue Devils can't afford to fall behind by more than 10 because the offense just doesn't work well in catch up mode. We expect the Blue Devils to come out with a determination to reestablish the running game, but in the end a win over Florida State is just too much to ask. Duke's defense will play respectably, but the Seminoles just have too much big play potential, and big plays have been an achilles heel so far for the Dukies.

Florida State 33-13


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