CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Bank of America Stadium turned into a woodshed Saturday night.
Florida State came away with yet another dominant win, claiming the ACC title 45-7, but there will be ice baths all around for players on both sides as defensive backs broke out the big hits.
Duke threw the first haymaker. The Blue Devil defense hit so hard it shook up Rashad Greene early and stifled FSU's offense in the first quarter. It wasn't until the Seminoles muscled up themselves that things turned around.
And it was fitting that FSU turned to one of its best physical specimens to turn the tide. Midway through the second quarter, Duke had great field position after Jamison Crowder's 40-yard punt return, but the Blue Devils instead gave up the ball with Lamarcus Joyner rose up for a third-down interception.
Florida State took full advantage of the moment, marching 73 yards in 11 plays for a critical touchdown and shoving around a Duke defense that had, until that point, gone toe-to-toe with FSU. The drive featured all the usual FSU hallmarks - a few critical third-down conversions to keep Duke's defense on the field, a series of tough runs by Devonta Freeman as well. But Karlos Williams put a fitting cap in FSU's statement drive by plowing over Duke safety Devon Edwards for a 12-yard touchdown run.
"It's always good to lay a big hit on a guy," Williams said. "Your team is getting banged up, they're throwing cheap shots back and forth, late hits back and forth. Hitting really hard making good hits too; but when you get a nice hit like that - the sidelines goes insane, it really helps us project the rest of the game. It pushes us forward."
Williams' teammates appeared to agree. Before Williams' touchdown run, FSU was averaging 6.9 yards per play. Afterwards, the Seminoles averaged 8.0 the rest of the game. Fellow offensive players said Williams' lowering his shoulder helped give FSU the boost to equal Duke's intensity.
"That just gave the team hype," wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. "It gave us the momentum back basically because I think they had the momentum the whole first quarter."
Benjamin wasn't wrong - Duke's big hits in the secondary knocked both Greene and Nick O'Leary out of the game briefly. The hit on O'Leary especially, in the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in doubt, drew an ejection for targeting for Duke's Dwayne Norman.
"They didn't get to this championship by being soft," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They were a very physical team"
But FSU's defensive backs answered the call. Duke's quick-read screen passes often times ended rudely at the hands of the FSU secondary. During one Duke drive in the first quarter, Jalen Ramsey blew up a screen pass for a loss, and three plays later P.J. Williams lowered the boom on another screen pass. Those plays forced Duke into a long field goal that the Blue Devils missed.
And FSU brought a series of cornerback blitzes that had Duke quarterback Anthony Boone discomfited all night. Two of Boone's three turnovers were caused on cornerback blitzes, including Nate Andrews' move that stripped Boone in the second half.
"We pride ourselves on is being physical," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "Duke came out and they played a heck of a game. The game was a lot better than the score sows. We just had to out play them."
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