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Duke shook off 0-2 ACC start; FSU takes No. 1 status in stride
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With Duke owning a 10-2 record and eight straight wins heading into Saturday night’s Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game, the Blue Devils’ 0-2 start in ACC play seems an ancient memory.
But think back to Sept. 21. The Blue Devils had not only opened conference play with back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Pitt, they dropped the latter game in excruciating fashion. Duke scored 55 points and lost by three points to the Panthers.
Most long-time ACC fans simply wrote off the Blue Devils at that point. The media had already picked Duke for a last-place Coastal Division finish in its preseason poll, and the early-fall happenings seemed to confirm those expectations. But redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Boone says he and his teammates never quit believing.
“Honestly, we just kind of said, our dreams that we have had since the beginning of this year, the goals that we have placed at the beginning of the year are still within reach, and to still just keep playing football and keep pressing and things will fall our way,” said Boone, who missed the Georgia Tech and Pitt games due to a broken collarbone sustained in Duke’s Sept 7 win at Memphis.
“That's kind of been our MO the whole year: Just keep playing and eventually everything will work itself out.”
“Work out” might be an understatement. The Blue Devils sail into Saturday night’s ACC title game against top-ranked Florida State at Bank of America Stadium with a school single-season record for wins and nationally ranked (20th) for the first time since 1994.
Count Boone among those the least surprised. This is what the Monroe, N.C., native envisioned a little over four years ago, when he signed with Duke at a time coach David Cutcliffe’s massive rebuilding project was in its beginning stages.
“It was more than belief, it was a confidence,’ Boone said. “ It was a poise, a swagger about it that we're going to be a part of the class that's going to shock, change this culture of Duke not being a football school, not being a football program. That's the mentality that every player in my class and the class above me came to school with, is that we're going to change the culture here.
“And it's happening in front of our eyes, and it's a great feeling. “
WHAT’S IN A NUMBER?
Florida State’s timing could not have been better as it worked its way to the top of the BCS standings and both national polls in the final weekend of the regular season. A win over Duke on Saturday night would likely propel the Seminoles into the National Championship Game at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher says the latter should be his team’s focus heading into Saturday night’s game, not standings or poll numbers.
“No. 1 has nothing to do with it. What we have to do is play well against Duke,” Fisher said. “I'm not worried about what we're ranked and what we're doing. That'll all take care of itself. What we need to focus on is preparing for a great game this week and playing a great game against Duke.
“Whether you're 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, whatever, it has no bearing on what we have to do this week. The only thing we can control is how we play and what we do this week, and that's what I'll tell (the team).”
MORE THAN A FOOTBALL PLAYER
Somewhat strange but true: Duke redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards’ basketball talents helped win over David Cutcliffe. Duke’s head football coach never saw the 5-foot-9 Covington, Ga., native play a live football game, but he became a quick believer after seeing Edwards perform on the hardwood.
“Not only was he the leading scorer, but he was the leading rebounder on his team,” Cutcliffe recalled. “He thought every ball that came off of a missed shot was his. I mean, he was incredible going after loose balls and rebounds. That's just the kind of guy you want to associate yourself with. He simply is a winner.”
It didn’t hurt Edwards’ cause that he also happened to be a 4.0 student who was well-liked by the faculty and all of his classmates.
“His coaches told me, ‘Let me tell you the kind of young man he is. He's real popular in school. He's quiet but really popular. So people are always stopping him in the hall, so as soon as the bell rings to end a class, he starts a stopwatch to make sure that he is not late for his next class,’ “ Cutcliffe said. “Well, they didn't need to tell me much more than that.”
Cutcliffe did get a good look at Edwards’ football skills by watching his high school games on film. What he saw foreshadowed Edwards’ first season as a player at Duke, which has seen him return two kickoffs and two interceptions for touchdowns. And, of course, there was the game-clinching interception in the regular-season finale against North Carolina, a play that ensured the Blue Devils’ spot in the ACC title tame.
“He had a knack of making big plays at big times,” Cutcliffe said of Edwards’ high school tapes. “And that's kind of funny now, to think about what he's done here. That knack has certainly continued, and I think a big part of that is just being a good player.”
ON THE LINE
With Florida State putting up close to 54 points per game and averaging over 526 yards per contest, the offensive line has not gone unnoticed. Left tackle Cameron Erving was awarded the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy, and center Bryan Stork was an Outland Trophy semifinalists. Both lineman earned first-team All-ACC honors.
Though Stork placed runner-up to Erving in the Jacobs Trophy balloting, the Seminole senior is showing no ill will. He had nothing but praise for Erving, the redshirt junior who earned played on the defensive side of the ball just two years ago before moving to the offensive line.
“It's always good to have a very skilled, athletic left tackle and a very dependable one, and Cam is all of those,” Stork said. “He was good at defensive line, too. He's just a football player, and it's good to have someone like that on your side.”
Stork said he and his teammate up front have grown to know one another so well, he feels they could communicate without the benefit of audible line calls.
“We could,” he said. “We definitely could. “I can look at the guys next to me and I can tell what they're thinking. And now that they're all more experienced and they're finally caught up, it's nice to have guys that are veterans now. They know what I'm thinking, I know what they're thinking, and we're all on the same page. “