Duke's Harding: There's no moral victories here
Duke came into the ACC championship game with fewer negative-yardage plays than any team in the conference, at 3.83 per game. Its very first play resulted in a one-yard loss on a run by Josh Snead.
The rest of the game was more of the same.
No. 20 Duke’s offense was no match for No. 1 Florida State, and the result was a 45-7 loss Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Blue Devils (10-3) featured a balanced attack — the first team in school history with 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns — but they couldn’t move the ball through the ground or the air against the Seminoles (13-0), who lead the nation in scoring defense at 11.0 points per game.
Duke’s offense had 13 possessions in the first three quarters. Ten went for three plays or fewer, and the other three resulted in either a turnover or a missed field goal.
Junior quarterback Anthony Boone suffered his first loss in 11 games as a starter, completing 20 of 40 passes for 138 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Duke’s rushing game was held to 99 yards, its second-lowest total of the season, and the Blue Devils didn’t reach the red zone until the final two minutes of the game.
“You have to make plays when they present themselves,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re not going to beat a lot of people when we complete 50 percent of our passes. That’s not just the quarterback. But in a game like this, any opportunity you have to make a play you had better make it."
The Blue Devils even got some favorable field position — Jamison Crowder returned a punt to the Florida State 37 and cornerback Breon Borders returned an interception to midfield — but that didn’t jumpstart the offense.
Duke put together one solid drive during the competitive portion of the game — a 15-play, 67-yard drive that took up more than six minutes in the first quarter — that gave the Blue Devils had a chance to be the first team to lead against Florida State since September.
Starting at its 3 after an FSU fumble, Duke moved fast — even forcing a too-many-men penalty on the Seminoles when they couldn’t substitute quickly enough — and Boone converted a third-and-16 with a 17-yard pass to Braxton Deaver.
But running back Jela Duncan dropped a 20-yard pass down the Duke sideline, and Ross Martin’s 48-yard field goal went wide right, keeping the Blue Devils scoreless despite the second-longest drive in ACC championship game history.
The Seminoles soon went ahead 7-0, but the Blue Devils had one last chance to tie after Crowder’s punt return set the team up at the 37. That opportunity ended when Boone was intercepted by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner — the Seminoles’ lone first-team all-ACC defensive player — at the 22.
Another first-half possession started in Seminoles territory after Borders intercepted Heisman Trophy favorite Jameis Winston, but Duke gained seven yards on three plays. Down 14-0 with two minutes left, the Blue Devils chose to punt on fourth-and-3 from the 43.
Duke finally got an explosive play in the third quarter from sophomore Shaquille Powell, who spun out of a tackle and ran for 21 yards to the FSU 35. But Boone’s struggles continued — the junior dropped a pass from receiver Jamison Crowder, overthrew Issac Blakeney and then was stripped by Nate Andrews when the cornerback came unblocked on a blitz.
The Blue Devils finally turned to backup Brandon Connette later in the quarter, but the switch didn’t make any difference against FSU’s defense, which has held every opponent but Boston College to 14 points or fewer.
“We just didn’t execute the way we should,” senior guard Dave Harding said. “We just couldn’t maintain a drive.”
Crowder did catch a game-high eight passes for 66 yards — he is now Duke’s all-time single-season leader in receptions and receiving yards — and Snead scored from five yards out with 1:01 left to help the Blue Devils avoid a shutout. But it wasn’t nearly enough to keep Duke from being Florida State’s latest blowout victim.
“There’s no moral victories here,” Harding said. “We got beat and it’s unacceptable. We came in with the expectation of winning, even though no one else gave us a chance, and anything short was not what we wanted.”