By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Florida State’s offense boasts a Heisman-winning quarterback, All-America candidates at receiver and on the offensive line and a senior running back with a nose for the end zone.
And yet, when the things looked bleak and the Seminoles had to make something happen Thursday night at Louisville, they turned to a trio of true freshmen.
With FSU trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane combined for four straight second-half touchdowns to help the Seminoles to a 42-31 win at Louisville.
“I’ve been saying it for the last couple weeks consistently about our young players,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I like where our team is going because they’re allowing us to expand our offense.”
The freshman emergence has given FSU a bevy of talented options – not to mention some much-needed depth – at running back and receiver.
With running back Mario Pender sidelined by a high-ankle sprain for a second straight game, Cook once again had to bear a heavier burden.
He responded with a nine-carry, 110-yard performance that included touchdown runs of 40 and 38 yards.
The latter proved to be the game-winner and lifted Cook over the 100-yard mark for the second time in three weeks.
“He’s a very unique talent,” Fisher said.
“Dalvin had an amazing game,” quarterback Jameis Winston added.
Cook didn’t do it alone, though.
Rudolph’s 68-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter cut the Seminoles’ deficit to 10. And he’s not likely to have many come easier throughout the rest of his career.
On third down from his own 32-yard line, Rudolph sprinted down the middle of the field and, somehow, found himself all alone.
He camped under Winston’s deep pass, made the catch then outran the Cardinals into the end zone. The West Palm Beach native has scored in three of FSU’s last four contests.
“Travis Rudolph on that critical touchdown,” Winston said, “another amazing game.”
And Lane got in on the act with a pretty 47-yard touchdown in which he caught a pass in heavy traffic and evaded three defenders on his way to the end zone.
Winston admitted after the game the throw might’ve been a mistake and that Lane was too heavily covered.
But Lane made sure that it didn’t matter.
“I wasn’t supposed to throw that ball,” Winston said. “But it was a blessing from above… the defense ran into each other and Ermon made a fantastic catch.”
Rudolph’s and Lane’s efforts were also significant in that they made the Cardinals pay for giving too much attention to senior Rashad Greene.
Greene got off to a nice start, but, as the game wore on, he noticed that Louisville’s defense started bringing more safety help over the top in hopes of keeping him under wraps.
It worked, to an extent. Greene’s 62 yards were the lowest of any game he finished this season. (He had 33 before leaving with a concussion against Wake Forest.)
But that extra emphasis came at a cost, as it left the Cardinals ill prepared to handle Rudolph and Lane.
“That’s the young guys’ opportunities to go make some plays,” Greene said. “And that’s what you have to do – step up and make big plays.”
With the calendar turning to November and FSU making its playoff push, Greene said the Seminoles have reached the point of the season when freshmen are no longer thought of as freshmen.
It’s the time of year, he said, when contributions from the youngsters are considered a necessity rather than a luxury. And, so far, they’ve answered the bell.
“We’re in the big leagues now,” Greene said. “So you’ve got to step up and be a man and make plays.”