Matchups to watch: FSU-Duke

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
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Things to keep an eye on when Florida State takes on Duke on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeE.J. Manuel
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesE.J. Manuel has been extremely accurate when passing outside of the pocket.
Noles to watch:
1. EJ Manuel. It's been a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for Manuel depending on the venue. He's been mediocre on the road, throwing just two TD passes in three games, completing 66 percent of his throws and averaging just 230 yards per game. Manuel has been unstoppable at home, though. In five home games, he's completing nearly 75 percent of his throws with eight TDs and averaging 332 yards per game.

2. Tyler Hunter. After his third fumble of the season on special teams last week, Rashad Greene was benched as FSU's top punt returner, and Hunter will now get his chance. But while Greene struggled to hold onto the football, he was also a big-play threat, with two touchdowns already. Hunter provides the same home-run potential, Fisher said, having played on offense through much of his high school career.

3. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Chris Thompson's season is over and the burden of picking up the FSU ground game now falls to a pair of sophomores. Both runners are averaging better than 6 yards per carry this season and combined for 119 yards and two touchdowns after Thompson departed last week's game, so there's ample reason for optimism.

Blue Devils to watch:
1. Sean Renfree. Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder should prove to be intriguing obstacles for the FSU secondary, but someone has to get them the ball. That job falls to Renfree, whose 68.9 completion percentage trails only Manuel among ACC quarterbacks. He's thrown 11 touchdowns this season despite missing the Virginia game with an injury.

2. Josh Snead. Duke's running game has hardly been a strength this season, but the Blue Devils did manage to pick up a season-high 234 yards a week ago against North Carolina. Snead led the charge with 99 yards on 15 carries, but Duke had three runners top 60 yards. Success on the ground opens up much more room for the big-play receivers.

3. Ross Cockrell. The 6-foot cornerback has the size to match up with some of FSU's bigger receivers, and he's shown a flair for the big play this season. His 43 tackles ranks third on the team, and his four interceptions are tied for the ACC lead. He's also got 10 pass breakups and 14 passes defended this season.

By the numbers:
6.7. That's the average yards per carry when Manuel, Wilder, Freeman or fullback Lonnie Pryor carry the ball on running plays for Florida State this season -- with all six averaging at least 6 yards per rush. Thompson was the heart of FSU's running game, but he was hardly its only weapon. Overall, the foursome of Plan B options has combined to average 141 yards per game on the ground (factoring out yardage lost to sacks) and accounted for 17 of the Seminoles' 26 rushing touchdowns.

9. That's the number of receptions of at least 30 yards by Vernon this season, tied for the second most in the nation. In his career, Vernon has 27 receptions of at least 30 yards, tied with Baylor's Terrance Williams for the most among all active FCS players.*

19. That's the smallest margin of victory Florida State has ever enjoyed against Duke in its 17 previous meetings -- all wins. FSU has scored 44 or more points 14 times against the Blue Devils, and its average margin of victory is 34 points.

75. That's Manuel's completion percentage when outside the pocket this year, having hit on 15 of 20 passes when on the run. While defenses are obviously wary of letting Manuel pick them apart from the comfort of the pocket, his completion percentage outside the pocket is a whopping 73.8 percent over the last three years -- 8 percentage points higher than when he's in the pocket.*

5. That's the number of punts Greene had returned in the past four games -- just 18 percent of the punts he was on the field for. That's less than half the percentage he'd returned in his first four games of the season. Hunter takes over this week having returned just two punts for 4 yards this season.

(*Courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

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