TAMPA, Fla. – Dalvin Cook is back in a big way. So too, apparently, is the Florida State football team. Cook took his first carry of Saturday’s game at South Florida 75 yards – his longest carry of the season – for a touchdown that sparked the No. 13 Seminoles to a 55-35 victory over the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Florida State is 3-1 and resumes ACC play at home next week against North Carolina. “It’s always good to see the No. 4 jersey from behind, running down the field,” junior left tackle Roderick Johnson said. “That’s my favorite part of the game.”
After three games without the type of highlight-reel runs or eye-popping stat lines that have become his trademark, Cook jumpstarted his Heisman Trophy candidacy by rushing for a career-high 267 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s the third 200-yard game of Cook’s career and the second-highest single-game rushing total in school history. Cook now owns three of FSU’s top five rushing performances of all-time, as well as five of its 20 longest touchdown runs.
He added a team-high four receptions and 62 yards through the air to bring his total offensive output to a career-best 329 yards and, along the way, answered any critics who might have questions about his performances this season.
“I don’t pay attention to that at all,” Cook said. “I know my body. I know my mind. There’s nothing wrong with Dalvin, to answer all the questions.”
USF certainly wouldn’t argue.
In two games against the Bulls, Cook has run for a total of 533 yards, and he’s posted the two best rushing efforts of his career against them. He beat last year’s total – 266 – by one yard on Saturday.
“People keep saying there was something wrong with him. I didn’t see anything wrong with him,” sophomore running back Jacques Patrick said. “He’s the same guy from last year. That was good to see him have a great game.”
But Cook didn’t have a monopoly on FSU’s running of the Bulls.
Patrick added another 124 yards and a score on 20 carries, giving FSU its first 200-100 rushing combo since 1985.
Quarterback Deondre Francois chipped in another 75 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and even fullback Freddie Stevenson got in on the act with 12 yards and two scores.
All told, the Seminoles chewed up 478 rushing yards – just one short of the school record – while averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.
For context, the No. 1 rushing team in the nation, Air Force, averages 432.5 yards per game.
“We did some better things at the line of scrimmage,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.
With so much success on the ground, Francois had a lighter workload in the passing game, but he took advantage of his opportunities by completing 6 of his first 6 passes on the way to a 169-yard day.
Francois’ lone touchdown pass went for 13 yards to Jesus Wilson, and he also connected with sophomore Auden Tate for a 39-yard completion that led to a score.
“We’re not trying to prove anything, we’re just trying to get better every week,” Francois said. “We’re trying to establish the run every week and go from there.”
Florida State’s defense, meanwhile enjoyed a strong bounce-back effort of its own in the first half.
After an ominous start that saw the Bulls score two touchdowns on their first two drives. including an 84-yard pass for a TD on their first play from scrimmage, the Seminoles tightened up and held USF off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter.
Consider that through their first two drives, USF accounted for 156 yards and two scores.
The Seminoles then forced six punts and two interceptions on USF’s next nine drives while allowing a total of just 65 yards.
By then, midway through the third quarter, the Seminoles led 45-14 and any thoughts that the they might suffer a letdown after last week’s loss at Louisville were long gone.
The Seminoles sacked USF’s Quinton Flowers three times and also forced two turnovers. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden grabbed his team-leading third interception of the season, and Nate Andrews later added a pick of his own on a deep USF pass near the end zone.
That the Bulls struck for three touchdowns in the second half, however, ensured that Fisher will still have plenty to critique when the team goes through its film review from the game.
“We’ve got to stop that,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to finish games and play 60 minutes. “That’s what we’re not doing, and we’re going to learn to do.”