TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Duke must find a way to slow down Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin if the No. 20 Blue Devils want to have a chance of upsetting the top-ranked Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
That’s a tall order, considering Duke David Cutcliffe admits his squad doesn’t “have anybody that can line up and match up physically” with the 6-foot-5, 234 pound Benjamin.
“We’ll be working all week on that answer,” Cutcliffe said.
The Blue Devils (10-2, 6-2 ACC) face Florida State Saturday and must come up with schemes to defend Benjamin, who had 212 yards receiving and three touchdowns against Florida in the Seminoles’ regular-season finale.
Benjamin has seven touchdown receptions in the last four games and his 12 overall are tied for the fourth-most during a season in school history. He has the look of an NFL receiver in street clothes, and that’s before Benjamin gets on the field and runs by smaller defensive backs.
The Blue Devils only have two defensive backs on the first- or second-team taller than 6-foot – 6-1 cornerback Garett Patterson and 6-2 safety Jeremy Cash.
“Benjamin is probably one of the rarest athletes in college football, with his size and his speed,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “He has great hands, great leaping ability. I think the best way to defend against somebody like that is to challenge them up front. What we’ve done all year is we’ve been physical with receivers, and we’re going to try and be physical with them, as well.
“I don’t know if we have to bracket him. We’re going to play football like we’ve been playing all year. We play our coverages, whether it’s zone or man, and we go up and try to challenge receivers, and we’ll do the same thing this weekend.”
The red zone is one of the biggest area of concern.
Benjamin caught touchdowns of 45 and 29 yards against the Gators, but he’s one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets near the end zone. Winston’s future remains uncertain with the ongoing sexual assault investigation, but he is expected to play Saturday.
The two constantly worked on the fade route during the summer to exploit smaller defenders. One of the most impressive plays of the season came on in incomplete pass in which Benjamin was positioned along the back of the end zone and caught the ball higher than the field goal crossbar, but landed out of bounds.
“I know it’s unfair at the end of the day because a lot of cornerbacks are like 5-11 (or slightly taller),” Benjamin said “I’m going to get it at the highest point. It doesn’t really matter where he’s at.
“I’m going to get the ball at the end of the day.”
Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner said it takes help to defend Benjamin. The first-team All-ACC cornerback explained that defenders have to play to their help in coverage and be technically sound.
The task hasn’t always been so difficult. The redshirt sophomore only played three years of high school football and is still learning the position. Benjamin said the goal is to play small – running precise routes, being quick in and out of cuts – and let his size be a natural advantage.
Benjamin is “playing as if he has no ability,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “‘I’m the worse player on the team. I have to run my routes. I’ve got to have technique. I’ve got to do this to get open.’
“When you combine that with his size and speed, then you have a dominant player. He truly understands that.”
Benjamin had 30 receptions and four touchdowns in 2012. He’s dropped weight, dedicated himself to learning the position and had a change of attitude.
“He came into college with the freshman blues,” Joyner said.
Winston singled Benjamin out in front of teammates before the game last week. Apparently, it worked.
“I said, ‘KB you are an unstoppable force,'” Winston said. “‘If you go out there and do what you’ve got to do you will be unstoppable and no one will be able to cover you.’ I told him in front of the whole team, ‘no one will be able to cover you.'”