ACC Championship 2013: Duke Players Key to Massive Upset of Florida State

Will GroomsCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 30:  Coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates as time expires in a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Duke won 27-25.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

As Duke prepares to play in its first ACC Championship Game, following its first 10-win season, the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles may not be wary of the Blue Devils. Though many critics haven't given Duke a chance, the Blue Devils have all the pieces to pull off one of the biggest upsets in conference championship game history.  

Duke will face its most difficult task of the season, as it hopes to at least slow down the machine-like Noles offense that's averaging 53.7 points per game—the second-highest scoring average in the country (stats via ESPN.com).

To have any hope of stymying FSU's national title hopes, the Blue Devils will need all-star performances from everyone who steps on the field—particularly the following:

 

Jeremy Cash

WINSTON SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 23:  Jeremy Cash #16 of the Duke Blue Devils tells the fans to get loud during play agianst the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 23, 2013 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Duke won 28-21.  (Photo by Grant Ha
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

To this point in the season, safety Jeremy Cash has recorded five games with double-digit tackles and four interceptions. It's not clear who will receive the tall order of covering Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin, but whoever it is, it can be guaranteed that they'll need Cash's help.

Benjamin is a game-changer. Coming off of a win against the rival Florida Gators, Benjamin caught nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns—all career highs (stats via ESPN.com). 

A big 6'5" receiver who likes to exploit smaller corners looks to match up very well with a Duke secondary whose tallest cornerback is Garrett Patterson, listed at 6'1". 

Along with Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene, the Seminoles have playmakers all over the field. Counting Benjamin, each player has caught 40 balls or more.

Cash will need to be the leader of the defense as the Blue Devils look to shut down Florida State's passing game.

 

Jela Duncan

Nov 30, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Jela Duncan (25) runs in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke is not a power-running team by any means, but it would be wise for them to consider the option. The only chance the Blue Devils have of keeping up with Florida State is running the ball and milking the clock.

Jela Duncan carried the ball a season-high 16 times in Duke's biggest win of the season over Miami, and tackling a 5'10", 210-pound running back in Duncan is cumbersome for any defense. Establishing an effective running game is the only chance Duke has to win against a defense that's allowing just 136 passing yards per game. 

Duncan is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and should be utilized early and often to take the pressure off of quarterback Anthony Boone (stats via ESPN.com).

 

Anthony Boone

Nov 30, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA;  Duke Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone (7) looks to pass in the third quarter. The Duke Blue Devils defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 27-25 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Spor
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke will not win this game if Anthony Boone is asked to throw the ball more than 20 times. 

Florida State's defense is very opportunistic, leading the country with 23 team interceptions. At times this season, Boone has had trouble making good decisions in the passing game and has given the ball away nine times through the air (stats via NCAA.com).

The high-powered Florida State offense cannot be given extra possessions. Boone must play his best game of the season and not turn the ball over for the Blue Devils to have a prayer in the ACC Championship.

 

Will Grooms is a student in the B/R sports media program. You can find more of his work at Collegiate Times and follow him on Twitter @w_grooms94.