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Florida State vs. Duke Game Preview

For the first time since 2015, Florida State has hit the 6-0 mark to start a season. Thanks to their most commanding victory on the season so far, a 41-3 drubbing of the Syracuse Orange, the Noles look as dangerous as ever. For the second year in a row, the defense blanketed the very athletic Garrett Shrader and his offense. Shrader experienced yet another career-low performance at the hands of the Seminole defense. After struggling with dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, this was a much-needed result and crucial for momentum. This weekend, Florida State will duke it out with the Duke Blue Devils in Doak-Campbell Stadium, at 7:30 pm ET on ABC. Can they carry over the momentum to this weekend, against an even more talented signal-caller in Riley Leonard?

Here is LWOS’s game preview for this exciting Top-25 matchup.

Florida State vs. Duke

Series History and Stats:

The last time these two teams matched up was in December of 2020 when Florida State outclassed Duke in a 56-35 offensive showcase. It’s safe to say both programs were at much lower points during that time. Florida State comes into the showdown having never lost to Duke, holding a commanding 21-0 series lead. This season, however, appears to be the Blue Devils’ best chance at ending the long streak and picking up their first series win.

The Blue Devils come into Tallahassee sitting third in the ACC, with a surprising 5–1 record, 2-0 in the conference and ranked 16th in the country. A heartbreaking 21–14 loss at home to currently 11th-ranked Notre Dame on September 30 has been their only setback. Otherwise, Duke has sustained a historic start to the season, outscoring their opponents by a 173–38 margin. This includes wins over ACC foes Clemson and NC State. Head coach Mike Elko has done an incredible job in turning the program around so quickly. He’s in the running to be named the ACC’s Coach of the Year.

The offense has been somewhat pedestrian, slotting in at ninth in the conference, averaging 388 total yards per game. The passing game is the worst in the ACC with 189.5 yards per game. However, leaning on the ground game has been Duke’s bread and butter. They rank at the top of the conference with 198.5 yards per game and 17 touchdowns. The Blue Devils are arguably even more stout on the other side of the ball. They rank second in the ACC in total defense, only allowing 298.5 yards per game on average. The strength is undoubtedly their pass defense, which is also the best in the conference with only 164.7 yards allowed per game.

Key Players to Watch: 

FSU WR Johnny Wilson

The Seminoles’ big-bodied star wideout missed last week due to an undisclosed injury. However, he’s nearly 100% and ready to suit up and start against Duke. Head coach Mike Norvell praised how he looked throughout the week during practice and is fully confident in Wilson’s abilities to rebound. Keon Coleman, as he has often proved this season, stepped up big in his absence with a huge performance. Who will possess the hot hand this time around? 

FSU RB Duo

Trey Benson and Lawrance Toafili combined for 21 carries for 167 yards and a score against Syracuse. While Benson is more of the workhorse and power back, Toafili provides more versatility and change-of-pace. The offenses executed that differentiation to near perfection last Saturday. With Duke’s defensive weakness lying more around defending the ground game, expect the Noles to transition more focus on running the football rather than throwing. The backfield tandem could prove highly crucial in this matchup.

Duke QB Riley Leonard 

His name has already been mentioned, and that’s because he’s so vital to how this Blue Devils offense operates. Leonard hasn’t put up gaudy statistics through the air, but he’s smart with the football and a great runner. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher behind starting running back Jordan Waters. It certainly doesn’t help that he’s been out two weeks with a high ankle sprain he suffered against Notre Dame.

Mike Elko has stated “There’s a chance” Leonard plays against FSU. If he does, and he’s close to 100%, it’s a massive boost for this Duke squad. Backup freshman quarterback Henry Belin IV threw two touchdowns and performed adequately in last week’s win over NC State. However, the office overall appeared much more sluggish and operated much more methodically without Leonard at the helm. He’s one of the best leaders in the sport, and it just feels like he needs to suit up and contribute if there’s any chance Duke pulls off the upset.

Prediction

Vegas is giving the Noles a two-touchdown advantage at home. It makes for an interesting line as a bettor, but it really all boils down to the health of Riley Leonard. If he plays, Duke possesses the talent, personnel, and experience to keep this a close, one-possession game down the final stretch. If he’s ruled out, the Blue Devil defense can keep it close, but the Seminoles just have too much firepower and could run away with it in the second half.

It is hard to not see Leonard give it a go, especially with how meaningful and high-stakes this contest has turned out to become. The outcome could prove pivotal in determining who claims the ACC crown. However, his mobility, which is arguably his greatest asset, will be limited by the ankle issue. This game will be a huge maturity test for FSU halfway through the season. The Seminoles maintain momentum from last week’s performance and take care of business at home.

Florida State – 38, Duke – 24

Photo Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

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