TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – No. 11 Florida State heads into the final third of its schedule trying to cure a midseason bout of sloppiness.
The Seminoles lost two of their five fumbles last week. There was also a shanked punt and a dozen penalties that cost them another 121 yards in a sluggish 33-20 win at Miami.
"Some things they inflicted on themselves, some things they didn't," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "There are elements in the game that you can't control."
The Seminoles (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are changing their punt returner for Saturday's game against Duke (6-2, 3-1), which leads the ACC's Coastal Division. Sophomore defensive back Tyler Hunter will take over the punt return duties from Rashad Greene in a significant lineup change this week by Jimbo Fisher.
"Punt returns we've got to get fixed," Fisher said.
Greene, who leads the Seminoles' receivers with 27 catches this season, had averaged 15.8 yards on punt returns and scored twice, but was inconsistent in fielding some punts.
Fisher, however, pointed to his team's resilience in overcoming so many mistakes and erasing an early 10-0 deficit.
"We overcame penalties ... losing our best offensive football player 20 plays into the game ... and still had 450 yards of offense and scored over 30 points," Fisher said, referencing the second quarter season-ending injury to tailback Chris Thompson.
"We haven't done that here for a long time in the past," Fisher said. "Other teams out there, good teams, don't always do that."
The Seminoles are the third most penalized team in the ACC and sixth in turnover margin.
Fisher is confident there won't be any noticeable drop off at tailback since sophomore James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman both had so much playing time a year ago after the speedy Thompson was sidelined early in the season with a potentially career-ending back injury. Wilder and Freeman have combined for 656 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. Wilder has also caught two TD passes.
"We know how good they are," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who is particularly familiar with Freeman who ran for 109 yards and a touchdown in Florida State's 41-16 win at Duke last year. "It's not going to change their offensive system at all."
Cutcliffe said like most good teams, Florida State is deep across the board.
"I don't think I've seen a more complete team in a number of years," Cutcliffe said the ACC's weekly coaches' conference call.
"We'll keep a good rotation," Fisher said, noting that fullback Lonnie Pryor will likely get more opportunities as well.
The Seminoles are a four touchdown favorite in their penultimate home game of the season. Florida State has been especially dominant at home, averaging 55.4 points a game, compared to the 26.7 points they've averaged in road games.
But it's been the teams they are expected to beat during the Fisher era that have caused the most heartache for the Seminoles and their fans. Though Duke hasn't been one of them — the Blue Devils have never beaten Florida State regardless of Seminole mistakes.
Still, Florida State isn't taking the surprising Blue Devils lightly — there's always a first time.