Game ball: Dalvin Cook had a roaring return to form Saturday, posting a new career high in rushing yardage (267) while adding a team-high 62 yards through the air. Cook’s 75-yard touchdown on FSU’s first offensive play was the highlight, but the junior running back gashed USF throughout the afternoon. He had eight touches of at least 10 yards on Saturday, including a 45-yard run early in the second quarter and a 27-yard catch-and-run midway through the first. Cook’s seven carries of 10-plus yards surpassed his total (six) from FSU’s first three games this season.
Play of the game: Cook’s 75-yarder was important on a few levels. First and foremost, it served to settle down the Seminoles’ sideline – to say nothing of the FSU fans watching in the stadium and at home – after South Florida struck for an 84-yard touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Second, it showed once and for all that Cook is, in fact, still capable of breaking free for the kind of game-changing runs that he so frequently made last year.
After falling short of the 100-yard rushing mark in each of his first three games, questions started to arise about whether Cook was the runner he used to be – whether he was healthy, whether he had lost a step, or whether he needed to sharpen his mental focus. Cook the whole time insisted that he was fine, but his performance on Saturday spoke louder than his words ever could.
“I don’t know why it was a question,” Cook said. “People get caught up in having the stats. But we’re going to go out there and play the same football we do every week. … I just think we did a better job this week of running the ball and getting me in open space and getting those (defenders) one on one.”
Turning point: With less than five minutes off the clock in the first quarter, the Seminoles and Bulls had each traded two scoring drives and, with the score tied 14-14, the game had the look of a whoever-scores-last-wins affair. But coordinator Charles Kelly’s defense settled down in the second and third quarters while the Bulls’ defense never did. After USF scored its second touchdown, the Seminoles held the Bulls in check on their next nine possessions. That stretch included six three-and-outs and two interceptions, which helped FSU to an overwhelming 40:19-19:41 advantage in time of possession. The Seminoles, meanwhile, kept scoring and built a lead as big as 45-14 in the third quarter.
It was over when: Freddie Stevenson plunged into the end zone for a one-yard TD that made the score 38-14 at halftime. Even as the Bulls’ offense heated up near the end of the game – they scored touchdowns on their final three possessions – the Seminoles were never truly threatened once their lead stretched beyond three touchdowns. It was the second of two touchdowns for Stevenson, who doubled his career scoring total from two to four in one afternoon.