TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State has a fool-proof recipe for success against the Florida Gators.
It involves lots of Dalvin Cook, a balanced, opportunistic offense and a defense that never lets the Gators score an offensive touchdown.
It worked last year in Gainesville, and it worked again Saturday night as the Seminoles rolled to a 31-13 victory that might not have been as close as the scoreboard shows.
FSU (9-3) has a four-game winning streak over Florida (8-3) for the third time in school history and has won six of its last seven against UF. This group of Seminoles also became the first to sweep both Florida and Miami over a four-year span.
“That’s never happened at this school. Think about that,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “All the great players that ever (played here in the past). To be able to achieve what they achieved and never lose to Miami or Florida, that’s something they can always take with them.
“That’s what you play for. … That’s the legacy you leave.”
Cook’s third game against the Gators was as impressive as the first two: He ran for 153 yards and a touchdown Saturday night and raised his three-year total against UF to 480 rushing yards and three scores.
After the clock hit zero, Cook took a brief lap around the field, high-fiving fans who had yet to make their way to the exits.
“Always beating rivalry teams is the icing on the cake,” said Cook, who set a new school record Saturday with his 45th career rushing touchdown. “To beat them is a great feeling. … This is the game you put on the calendar at the beginning of the year.”
Florida State’s defense, meanwhile, held the Gators’ offense out of the end zone for a second straight year.
Florida’s only touchdown of the night came when it recovered a Nyqwan Murray fumble on a punt return and took it for a score. The Gators’ offense hasn’t scored a touchdown against FSU since the 0:47 mark of the third quarter in 2014 – the year before coach Jim McElwain took over.
Appropriately, FSU held healthy advantages in total yards (387-207), first downs (18-14), third-down conversions (11-17 for FSU, 0-12 for UF) and time of possession (32:01-27:59).
It marked the first time since 2004 that FSU held an opponent without a third-down conversion.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Fisher said. “There were no easy plays for them.”
A relentless FSU pass rush certainly didn’t help matters. The Seminoles sacked UF quarterback Austin Appleby eight times to bring their nation’s-best season total to 47.
Senior DeMarcus Walker paced the effort with two sacks, while sophomore Josh Sweat and freshman Brian Burns were each credited with 1.5 sacks.
Walker upped his season sack total to 15, the third-most in school history and most since Andre Wadsworth had 16 in 1997.
“I’m very happy,” Walker said. “I can’t wait to go home and be with my family. I like the way we fought. I’m unbeaten against the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes. I can talk (trash) for the rest of my life, no matter what, because they never beat me.”
The Seminoles jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the strength of Cook’s 17-yard touchdown run and a 22-yard field goal.
But with the game teetering toward an early rout, the Gators tightened up and forced two misses from FSU kicker Ricky Aguayo while scoring two field goals of their own.
The game settled into a tense, back-and-forth affair until midway through the third quarter, when Deondre Francois connected with Travis Rudolph for a 46-yard touchdown on third-and-10.
It was FSU’s second third-down conversion of the drive and the first of three second-half touchdowns that broke open the game.
Senior Freddie Stevenson went up the middle for a 27-yarder that made it 27-6 early in the fourth quarter, and Francois later scrambled for an 8-yard score that provided the final margin with one minute to play.
Francois completed just 15 of 26 passes for 138 yards, but he was 8 of 10 for 78 yards and that touchdown in the second half.
The redshirt freshman turned the ball over twice, but each time bounced back to lead touchdown drives on FSU’s ensuing possessions.
“All quarterbacks are going to throw interceptions,” Francois said. “But I feel like it’s what you do after the interception (that matters). Because mistakes are going to happen.”
Added Fisher, “(Francois) was awesome tonight. … He took another huge step today. I mean, a huge step in his development. He’s been rock solid, and I can’t ask for any more out of him.”
Saturday marked an emphatic finish to Florida State’s regular season, in which the Seminoles won four straight games by a combined score of 145-54.
They’ll have to wait to learn their postseason fate, but Louisville’s loss to Kentucky earlier in the day could potentially open a spot for the Seminoles in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
FSU has played in a Bowl Championship/New Year’s Six bowl for five straight seasons.
“That,” Fisher said, “would be wonderful.”