DURHAM, N.C - Florida State's simmering frustration over a month-long losing skid struck the facemasks of the Duke Blue Devils from the start on Saturday.
Reeling from three straight losses and a free fall from its lofty preseason perch, FSU wasted no time, jumping all over the Blue Devils en route to a 41-16 win at Wallace-Wade Stadium.
"It feels good to get back on a winning track," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We came out, played aggressive early, played smart early. We were able to establish the running game and make big plays. I'm proud of the way our kids battled and fought, we've got a long way to go, but we're 1-0 at the end of the week. And that's our goal, to be 1-0 at the end of each week. "
For a team that couldn't seem to find any fluidity the past three games, FSU (3-3, 1-2 ACC) flaunted plenty of it in all three phases on the way to its first conference win of the year.
Quarterback EJ Manuel dialed up the deep passes, connecting on a trio of 50-plus yard completions in the first quarter alone. The Seminoles (3-3) jumped out to a 17-3 lead after the first period and never looked back.
Manuel was 3-of-5 for 160 yards with a 51-yard scoring strike to Rodney Smith in the first 15 minutes.
"I think we just saw the looks in practice, we watched a lot of film on these guys," said Manuel, who finished the day 9-of-14 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns. "We felt like we had the opportunity, a lot of times (the Duke safeties) kind of squatted instead of dropping back so we knew we could have a good chance running by those guys and those (receivers) went up and made good catches for me."
The Florida State running game also posted its best performance of the season, totaling 242 yards on 22 carries. True freshman Devonta Freeman was the focal point of the attack, rushing 19 times for 109 yards and a touchdown. Manuel added 62 yards and two scores on the ground.
"Devonta did a nice job and our offensive line did a really nice job of staying, kept pounding and getting better with the run," Fisher said.
And the defense, which set a school record for the fewest turnovers created through the first five games (4), nabbed two turnovers from Duke (3-3, 1-1 ACC) in the first half. Duke was held to 110 total yards in the first half as FSU built a 27-3 halftime lead and the defense tallied a season-high five sacks.
"It felt great as a defense to get some turnovers finally," said defensive end Bjoern Werner who tipped a pass that led to a first quarter interception and collected his team-best fifth sack of the year. "Nobody was quitting after last week, and we had a good practice week this week. We had a great attitude, a great game and everyone was on the same page."
FSU stretched its lead to 34-3 in the third quarter on tight end Nick O'Leary's first career touchdown catch and Manuel put the game away with a six-yard scoring run to make it 41-16 midway through the fourth.
After a month of coming up empty in different phases at different times, the Seminoles mustered a all-cylinder performance.
"We executed, we played with some consistency," Fisher said. "That's a sign of a good football team - a mature team that can execute - play-in and play-out - a team that can stay focused and do what it does."