NGSC Sports

David versus Goliath: The ACC Championship game

David versus Goliath. On paper this might look like a mismatch, but come Saturday night in Charlotte, a huge game looms. It will be the number one Florida State Seminoles, unbeaten at 12-0, taking on the surprise story of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the 20th ranked Duke Blue Devils at 10-2 for the championship of the ACC.

Head coach David Cutcliff took over the Duke program six years ago and there was one thing he noticed right away. It was that he inherited a team that in his words was “the fattest softness team ever”. So the first thing he did was put a condition plan in place that over time has paid off handsomely for his players. Better shape has resulted in better performance. It has been a season of firsts for the Blue Devils, first 10 win campaign in the 101 year history of Duke Football, first outright division championship since 1962. This is their ninth winning season in the past fifty years, and back to back bowls appearances for the first time in school history.

When the pre-season polls came out back in early summer for the ACC, Duke was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division. They did get off to a slow start, then found their stride just before the mid way point of the season ending the year on a eight game winning streak. The Blue Devils are a grind it out type of team, with four players averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Their offensive line with 4 out of the 5 being seniors have done a great job not only opening holes for the running game, but also protecting the quarterbacks having only allowed 14 sacks in the twelve games played. Quarterbacks Aaron Boone and Brandon Connette complement each other very well, Boone has thrown for almost 1700 yards this year with 10 TD, while Connette has done it with both arm and legs, throwing for over 1200 yards and becoming a very effect short yardage runner.

Duke’s ground game has been an effective rotation of 4 players, Juwan Thompson, Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Jela Duncan averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Overall, the Duke rushing attack finished the 2013 season at 4.5 yards per attempt. Jamison Crowder was the favorite target in the passing game, the post season first team all conference WR had a great season with 88 receptions for 1131 yards and 7 TD. In the red zone, Duke was as good as any team at nearly 100% on goal to go chances, only once all season did the Blue Devils not scored a TD on a goal to go.

Duke had the best fourth quarter scoring margin in the country and special teams also proved to be a vital weapon. The Blue Devils returned four kicks for touchdowns this season, with defensive back DeVon Edwards having two of those run backs. Placekicker Ross Martin was solid all year, perfect on extra points and was 11 of 15 in field goal tries with his longest being from 53 yards.

On defense, the Blue Devils were led by safety Jeremy Cash who finished the year with 109 total tackles and 4 INT. He was backed up by defensive back Ross Cockrell who totaled 36 tackles, 1 sack and 3 INT. both of these players as well as linebacker Kelby Brown 101 tackles, 1 sack and 2 INT. were named to the first team all conference defensive team.

For Florida State it starts with their offense that outscored the opposition by an average of 44 points per game. They were second in the nation in points for at 53.7 per game. They are led by freshman quarterback sensation Jameis Winston, who was a first team all conference selection although not a unanimous first time pick. He threw for 3490 yards, 35 TD, and only 8 INT. His completion percentage was 69% and his overall QB rating at year’s end 192.6. Winston has several weapons to use in the passing game, first team all ACC wide receiver  Rashad Greene with 61 receptions, 914 yards, and 9TD Kenny Shaw haul in 48 balls, for 855 yards, 5TD and Kelvin Benjamin 45 catches, 838 yards, 12TD. All three kept defensive secondaries busy and will be a challenge for Duke defensive backs  as well.

The running game is led by Devonta Freeman, also a first team selection, who ran behind a trio of first teamers in Center Bryan Stark, Guard Tre’ Jackson, and Tackle Cameron Erving. Controlling the line of scrimmage will play a major role in whoever comes out on top in this game.

Stopping Florida State’s offense is just one part of the equation, their defense has been a difficult unit to crack as well. They come into this game number one in the nation in points against giving up only 11.0 per-game. Finding ways to score against the Seminoles has been hard to do. The kicking game is rock solid, Roberto Aquayo is prefect on the season on extra points, and ended the year having made 18 of 19 field goals tries his longest is also from 53 yards out.

We know how Florida State is going to try to win this game by getting off to quick start and steamrolling their opponent. But how does Duke pull off the upset? The same way that Boston College tried earlier in the season. Slowing the game down, sustain drives doing whatever it takes to keep the Seminoles high powered offense off the field, as they can’t score from the bench. If Duke cannot win the time of possession battle and take advantage of scoring chances when they arrive, it could be a long day for the Duke Blue Devils.

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