Duke vs. FSU: Keys for Both Sides in ACC Championship

Alex Espinoza@AlexEspinozaIVCorrespondent IIIDecember 6, 2013

Nov 30, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) throws a pass against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida State won 37-7. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles (12-0) are just one victory away from securing their first trip to the BCS National Championship in 13 years. But before they get ready for a possible showdown with No. 2 Ohio State, FSU will have to get past No. 20 Duke (10-2) in Saturday's ACC Championship Game (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

As it stands now, the Seminoles are an overwhelming favorite to leave Atlanta with the ACC crown on their way to the title game. Not to mention they have won all 18 meetings between the two schools. Still, the Blue Devils are riding an eight-game winning streak and have been looking like a completely different team in recent weeks.

Here's a look at key storylines for both teams heading into this conference championship that's expected to be a one-sided affair.


FSU: Ride Jameis Winston to Victory

It seems like Jameis Winston is a lock to win the Heisman trophy this year despite being a true freshman. When you complete 68.8 percent of your passes for 3,490 yards, 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions, it doesn't matter how old you are.

Winston's big year has been made possible by arguably the top wide receiver trio in the country, which includes Kelvin Benjamin (45 catches, 838 yards, 12 TDs), Rashad Greene (61 receptions, 914 yards, nine TD) and Kenny Shaw (48 catches, 855 yards, five TDs).

Duke's defense has shown signs of improvement lately, though, led by the ACC's top three leading tacklers, linebackers David Helton (114) and Kelby Brown (101) and safety Jeremy Cash (109).

But there's a reason why the Seminoles are favored by about four touchdowns, and it's because of their high-powered offensive attack. Right now, it's doesn't look like anyone can stop Winston and his talented arsenal.


Duke: Anthony Boone Needs to Stay Hot

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 30:  Anthony Boone #7 of the Duke Blue Devils rolls ut under pressure from Jeff Schoettmer #34 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during play at Kenan Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Ha
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Winston's counterpart, Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, hasn't exactly been Heisman-worthy this season. In nine contests, Boone has thrown for 1,695 yards on 66.2 percent passing with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while adding 192 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.

Even though few predict a victory for the Blue Devils, Boone is staying positive, per Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News and Observer:

Boone's main target this season has been Jamison Crowder, who ranks among the NCAA leaders with 88 catches for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns.

Boone has hit another gear in the past two weeks during wins over Wake Forest and North Carolina, going a combined 47-of-63 (74.6 percent) for 530 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. He'll need to keep up that level of production against a menacing FSU defense that is led by its talented defensive line.


FSU: Stay Stout Against the Run

Nov 23, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (8) during a play in the first half against the Idaho Vandals at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida State fanbase might have a bone to pick with the All-ACC selection committee after Timmy Jernigan wasn't named to the first team.

Jernigan leads a dominant front four that also features potential NFL players like Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample. The quartet has been key to a defense that gives up just 3.13 yards per carry, which is tied for sixth best in the nation.

Duke doesn't have a heavy hitter in the backfield, with Jela Duncan (546 yards, three touchdowns) and Josh Snead (530 yards, no touchdowns) leading the way. Quarterback Brandon Connette has accounted for 13 of the team's 24 rushing touchdowns this year, with most of them coming at the beginning of the season, but he's since been replaced under center by Boone.

If FSU can stifle the run game early and make Duke one-dimensional, it could be a long day for the Blue Devils.


Duke: Capitalize on Big Plays

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

If there's one area where the Blue Devils can outclass the Seminoles, it's on special teams. Duke has two kickoff returns for scores and two punt return touchdowns this year, and it could use more against Florida State.

Aside from the third phase of the game, winning the turnover battle will be paramount for the underdog Blue Devils.

Duke's marquee victory of the year came against then-No. 14 Virginia Tech, a sloppy 13-10 win that featured four interceptions created by the Blue Devils. Winston has been careful with the ball this year, but Duke will have to make him play uncharacteristically bad if it wants any shot at winning an improbable ACC title.


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