FSU routs Duke, controls own division destiny
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The day began well and ended even better for Florida State.
About 650 miles to the north, there was good news for the Seminoles — North Carolina got a last-minute Gio Bernard punt return for a touchdown to defeat N.C. State 43-35.
Back in Tallahassee, Florida State was piling up the points in the first half. The Seminoles thoroughly dominated Duke — just like they did in the 17 previous matchups between the teams. Even the best Blue Devils football team in nearly two decades wasn't able to put up much of a fight on Saturday.
And with that, Florida State was back in the driver's seat in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
EJ Manuel threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, Devonta Freeman ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns and Tyler Hunter returned a punt for another TD, as Florida State rolled to a 48-7 rout of Duke before 71,467 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"I was proud of the way we came out of the gate," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We played very well early in the game — offense, defense and special teams."
Dustin Hopkins also made two field goals, including a career-long 56-yard kick, to give the senior an ACC-record 81 career made field goals.
Florida State is 8-1 for the first time since 2003, when the Seminoles finished 10-3 and won the ACC title.
Now Florida State goes into the bye week in control of the Atlantic Division. If the Seminoles win their final two ACC games — at Virginia Tech on Nov. 8 and at Maryland on Nov. 17 — Florida State will claim the division title and play for its first conference championship since 2005.
"What we have to do is just beat Virginia Tech," Fisher said. "I'm not worrying about the end results of anything."
But the end result looked pretty good from Florida State's standpoint on Saturday. In addition to North Carolina's win over N.C. State, the Seminoles can enjoy an 18-0 record all-time against Duke, and all of them have been double-digit wins.
The Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2) are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994, but on Saturday they looked like the hapless Duke teams of the past few seasons.
Duke was held to just 4 of 18 on third-down conversions and was forced to punt 12 times. The Blue Devils generated just a Jela Duncan 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Florida State scored on four of its first five possessions and, helped by Hunter's punt return for a touchdown, took a 31-0 lead just 19 minutes into the game.
The only thing that seemed to slow down the Seminoles down was fumbles. Florida State had four — including three in the third quarter alone.
Manuel's night was over early in the fourth quarter, and he completed 8 of 16 passes for 282 yards. Two of his passes were long touchdowns — a 71-yarder to Rashad Greene and a 35-yarder to Kelvin Benjamin.
"The game plan was obviously to stretch the field, establish the run, but at the same time stretch the field," Manuel said. "We definitely took advantage of the plays we saw downfield. I wish my (completion) percentage was a lot better but we were still able to make some plays."
With FSU playing its first game without injured tailback Chris Thompson, Freeman and James Wilder stepped in and paced a Seminoles ground attack that accumulated 261 yards. Thompson was on the sideline on crutches but helped give advice to the two sophomores.
"It means a lot," Freeman said of Thompson. "Every time I look at him, I think, ‘Dang, man, take advantage of the opportunity.' He didn't plan that he was going to get hurt and be out for the season. I just like him being there, because it kind of motivates me."
There's plenty of motivation for the Seminoles. Going into a bye week, there now is time to mentally and physically recharge. But then it's back to work in preparation for Virginia Tech — and the chase for a division title.