In some regards, that was true. The Seminoles were extremely impressive in the 45-7 victory over Duke and completely controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. There was no question they had superior talent and depth and would be a worthy national champion if they go on to defeat Auburn in the title game.
However, this wasn’t a game that Duke should just burn the tape and forget. There are some things from the loss the Blue Devils can build on moving forward.
1. Duke never backed down from Florida State.
The Blue Devils came out ready to fight to start the game and they kept that fight for four full quarters. The defense had some huge hits on Florida State’s receivers and refused to roll over. Even when the Seminoles were continuing to throw the ball in the 4th quarter despite being up 35-0, Duke’s defensive backs were doing their best to make the receivers pay. This type of fight was impressive to see from a team that was trailing by so much on the scoreboard.
2. Duke had opportunities to seize momentum in the 1st quarter.
Unlike another team from The Triangle that played Florida State this season, Duke held the Seminoles in check in the first quarter. They were the first team to hold the FSU scoreless in the first quarter this season, and Duke actually should have been ahead. A missed field goal and a dropped pass that likely would have resulted in a touchdown were just a couple of the miscues that prevented Duke from taking the early lead. Those are mistakes you can’t afford to have against the No. 1 team in the country, but it was good to at least see Duke put itself in a position to make those potential plays.
3. Duke has now experienced this moment.
This game serves two purposes. One – These players in the Duke program now know what it takes to get to an ACC Championship and they understand how well you have to play to win a championship. This is an experience these players can build on. Two – this year’s freshman class has now experienced what it’s like to get blown out. It’s the first time it’s really happened this season. Think about that. A Duke team that went through an entire regular season without a blowout loss. Talk about a culture change. Now that those players know how it feels, hopefully it motivates them to avoid having to ever experience that feeling again.
4. Duke’s defense held the likely Heisman Trophy winner in check.
Jameis Winston may have put up good numbers and won the game’s Most Valuable Player award, but there were multiple occasions where Duke made him look uncomfortable. He made a couple bad throws that led to interceptions for the Blue Devils, and had another odd play that should have been intercepted by Kelby Brown. For as much as Winston has picked defenses apart this season, Duke actually held their own against him for much of the game.
5. Duke has the talent to get back to this game again.
This wasn’t a year where Duke happened to be loaded with experienced seniors who could make one last run at a championship. Aside from some senior starters on defense, this is still a relatively young team. And with the strong recruiting classes David Cutcliffe has been able to bring in, the future in Durham is still very bright. This season was simply the next step in Duke becoming an annual contender in the ACC’s coastal division.