The 22nd-ranked Blue Devils struggled against eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and No. 1 Florida State in the ACC title game.
Now they must find a way to stop last year’s Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel, and No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
According to STATS, Duke (10-3) is the first team to play Heisman winners in consecutive games since the 2010 LSU team took on Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Auburn’s Cam Newton back-to-back.
“When we found out our matchup, we were all pumped about it because it’s awesome to play against a guy that exciting and an offense that good,” Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said Tuesday. “It’s a chance to make a statement for ourselves, and it’s just fun. It’s the nature of a competitor.”
There isn’t a whole lot Duke can take from its preparations for Winston and the Seminoles that it can put to use against Manziel and the Aggies on Dec. 31 in Atlanta because they have different styles and run different offenses.
Duke linebacker David Helton, who has an ACC-leading 122 tackles, says Winston and Manziel are “two different quarterbacks.”
“(Winston) is definitely a scrambler as well, but he’s not as much of a scrambler as Manziel is,” he added. “Manziel is built on scrambling. ... He likes to sit back there and kind of make magic happen, whereas Winston is more of a bigger guy and he likes to sit in the pocket a little bit more than Manziel does. Different mindsets for both of them.”
But beating a Heisman winner would give Duke’s big season another stamp of legitimacy.
The Blue Devils set a school record for wins, beat two Top 25 opponents, captured their first Coastal Division title and became the only team to shut out the Seminoles in the first quarter before losing 45-7 in the league title game.
“Once you play against the best and you play against somebody else, you can look at it and say, ‘OK, we played against the best, so what (else) is there out there?’” freshman cornerback DeVon Edwards said. “If we do good against them, we should do good against anybody.”
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, whose first career loss as a starter came in the ACC title game, says there’s no temptation to try to outduel Manziel because “that doesn’t win football games.
“Guys like that are going to put up numbers. To try to go out there and compete with them is where I’ll try to do too much and mistakes will happen,” Boone said.
Boone had three turnovers while Winston accounted for four touchdowns and 389 total yards two weeks ago in Charlotte.
The Blue Devils are eager to get back on a big stage, atone for that performance and prove something to their doubters.
“What people are seeing right now is that we got beat really bad by Florida State, and maybe they’re thinking, ‘Well, Duke can hang in with most teams but not with that top tier,’” Brown said. “I think no one would argue that Texas A&M isn’t one of those top-tier teams, so it’s another chance for us to show that we belong up there.”