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Florida State easily handles Duke for ACC title / December 09, 2013

No. 1 Florida State shook off a sluggish start and routed no. 20 Duke 45-7, repeating as the ACC football champions in Charlotte Saturday night.

With the win, the ‘Noles appear to be a lock for the BCS national title game in Pasadena on Jan. 6.

Installed as the heavy favorite, FSU started slowly against Duke, which got no points from three FSU turnovers. The Seminoles, now 13-0, are expected to grab one of the two coveted spots in the upcoming BCS national title game. The final BCS standings were set to be released last night, with bowl assignments following the BCS release.

Auburn defeated Missouri in the SEC title game, and Michigan State likely ended Ohio State’s national title dreams with an upset victory in the Big Ten championship game.

An Auburn-Florida State matchup in the national title game seems possible.

The Noles eventually steamrolled the Blue Devils, just like they’ve done to every other opponent standing in their path this season. The Blue Devils dropped to 10-3, but will still get a quality bowl, and the Blue Devils pledged to get refocused on that goal.

FSU quarterback Jameis Winston bolstered his Heisman trophy hopes with a strong performance. Winston performed well on the championship stage. Winston finished the night 19-for-32 for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for another score and racked up 59 yards rushing. Winston had some off-kilter moments and threw two picks, but the all-star FSU line kept him clean, for the most part, as he was only sacked once.

Duke failed to capitalize on some early opportunities, and the Blue Devils came up with no points after a 15-play, 67-yard drive that started on the Blue Devils three and ended with a missed 48-yard field goal from specialist Ross Martin with 5:07 left in the first quarter. It was a tough punch in the gut for Duke, which had started the drive after the defense forced a Devonta Freeman fumble deep in the red zone.

Ultimately, FSU showed why it held the no. 1 BCS ranking, steaming to its 14th ACC title (shared or outright) since joining the league in 1992. FSU has 12 outright titles and the Noles have now tied Clemson in that category.

The Blue Devils were seven of 20 on third down conversions, clearly struggled running the ball, and generally had trouble with missed opportunities early. But Duke was also facing a top-shelf defensive unit.

QB Anthony Boone obviously needed to have a better game for the Blue Devils. Boone’s pass interception that was pilfered by Lamarcus Joyner paved the way for a 14-0 Blue Devil lead and the eventual FSU blowout win.

Boone also later made another mistake under pressure that Duke, working with a narrow margin of error, could not afford.

Working in a third-and-nine situation at the Duke 27, Boone tried to throw under heavy pressure. He was picked off by FSU linebacker Telvin Smith. Three plays later, Winston connected with FSU wideout Kenny Shaw for an 11-yard touchdown. FSU led, 24-0.

Then, following three incomplete passes by Boone, FSU delivered the dagger, a 54-yard pass from Winston to a 6-5, 234-pound athletic freak, Kelvin Benjamin, to eliminate any remaining drama about the outcome. Winston threaded the Duke secondary on the play.

Field position worked against Duke early, stuck at its 14 to start its second possession. Florida State began to move into good position on its second drive, starting from the Duke 47.

FSU started creating separation, but Winston missed on a wide-open Benjamin. And then Duke got the kind of break it had to have early, as Ross Cockerill forced a Devonra Freeman fumble. Jeremy Cash, one of the leaders of the defense, gobbled up the ball on the Blue Devils’ three.

That was an unexpected defensive stop for Duke, stopping an early threat by FSU.

The Blue Devils also surprised FSU early, cracking open a seam on a 17-yard first down pass play to tight end Braxton Deaver. FSU showed fierce hitting early, and Duke’s Ross Martin misfired wide right on a 48-yard field goal attempt.

But Duke covered 15 plays and 6:03 off the clock on the surprisingly feisty drive.

At least Duke had battled to a scoreless first period with FSU, which, by contrast, torched NC State 35-0 in the first quarter.

But FSU has a powerful offense, and the ‘Noles running game started making inroads. Furthermore, FSU tight end Nick O’Leary, started creating some cracks in the Duke defense.

Finally, with 12:36 left before halftime, FSU got on the board. Duke had plenty of concern over third-team all-ACC pick Kelvin Benjamin, who made a very athletic play on a 14-yard scoring strike from Winston. The ‘Noles went 64-yards and took 4:03 off the clock, finally finding a solution against the Blue Devils, with 12:36 remaining before halftime.

Many experts figured Duke might be able to do damage with special teams, and Duke’s Crowder sliced through the FSU punt return unit for a 40-yard gain.

But Duke also needed to play flawless football, and Boone threw a pick to Lamarcus Joyner, allowing FSU to atone for its special teams blunder. Joyner’s pick gave FSU the ball on the ‘Noles 27.

With 6:34 left in the first half, Duke had some terrible tackling on a 22-yard FSU gainer, and the Winston-Benamin connection also started clicking. Finally, FSU began to perform as expected, with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring thrust, capped by a slicing 12-yard scoring run by Karlos Williams, a junior running back in the ‘Noles stable.

With 3:37 l eft in the second half, FSU owned a 14-0 lead.

Duke, taking some ferocious hits from the FSU secondary, could not get untracked in the first half, and Boone’s pick absolutely proved very costly for the Blue Devils, who had a narrow margin of error in this title showdown.

Winston gave Duke a gift with a badly overthrown pass - picked off by freshman Breon Borders - giving the Blue Devils only their second real opportunity to create mischief, with 2:31 remaining before intermission. The Blue Devils could not capitalize on the Winston error.

Still, FSU went into halftime missing an opportunity for the knockout punch, with the ensuing drive stymied by a holding call. Then, Winston threw an off-target pass with 30 ticks left, and the ‘Noles had to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Lou Groza national finalist Roberto Aguayo. FSU led, 17-0, at the half.

The ‘Noles stalled on the opening drive of the second half. Erving, returning to action, incurred a costly 15-yard personal foul penalty, but the Noles soon got untracked.

Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said, despite the result, “losing is always tough. But in any game, you’ve got to learn, whether you win or lose. Tonight, we learned a lot about ourselves. We still have a great family unit on this team, a lot of character guys. And we’re going to come back to the bowl game, we’re going to be stronger.”

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