TAMPA, Fla. — Those questions about whether Dalvin Cook can recover from a slow start? He just answered them.
The shifty Florida State running back rushed for a career-high 267 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, helping the 13th-ranked Seminoles rebound from the most lopsided loss in school history with a 55-35 rout of previously unbeaten USF.
Cook has had a quiet season after rushing for a FSU-record 1,691 yards as a sophomore, raising questions about why he had not been as productive in his team’s first three games.
“People get caught up in having the stats, but we have to go out there and play the same football every week. We have to run the ball and we have to pass the ball, we just did a better job this week,” Cook said. “When (the team) calls my number I just try to get the job done.”
Cook scored on a 75-yard run on the Seminoles’ first play from scrimmage, an immediate response to USF starting the game with Quinton Flowers and Rodney Adams teaming on an 84-yard catch-and-run for a quick 7-0 lead. The 213-pound junior’s rushing total on 28 carries topped his previous best of 266 yards against South Florida last year.
“It was very important to answer back. USF came out with a very aggressive game plan and we had to respond with points,” Cook said. “The offensive line did a good job of giving me space, and I was one-on-one with the safety and I had to beat him.”
Florida State (3-1) bounced back from being trounced 63-20 by Louisville, a road shellacking that dropped the Seminoles 11 spots in the AP Top 25 from No. 2.
“Dalvin had a nice day,” coach Jimbo Fisher said, though he wasn’t happy that his team yielded five touchdowns and 450 yards on defense. “We have to learn to finish games and play the full 60 minutes.”
South Florida (3-1) is off to its fastest start since 2011, however the Bulls were no match for a talented bunch that began the season with expectations of contending for its second national title in four years.
“I looked at this game as an opportunity for our football team to get a little more respect nationally,” South Florida coach Willie Taggart said.
“We didn’t take advantage of that.”
Marlon Mack’s 1-yard TD run gave USF a brief lead before Cook, Freddie Stevenson and Bobo Wilson scored on Florida State’s next three possessions to put the Seminoles up 28-14.
Deondre Francois threw for 169 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The red-shirt freshman added a 35-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter.
Florida State: Losing to Louisville by 43 may have severely damaged the Seminoles’ chances of winding up in this year’s College Football Playoff, however getting Cook back on track will give them a chance to have an impact on the race.
South Florida: Beating the Seminoles would have been nice, however a better test of where coach Willie Taggart’s rebuilding job stands is whether they can shrug off the disappointment and contend for a spot in the AAC championship game.
Florida State tumbled from No. 2 after losing to Louisville, but played like a team that’s one of the best in the country. South Florida was hoping to state its case for wider recognition and a spot in the Top 25. The Bulls have improved, but learned they’ve got a ways to go to narrow the gap between them and the nation’s elite programs.
Cook only rushed for 228 yards and two TDs the previous three weeks. He had one carry over 20 yards in the first three games. With the junior rolling again, FSU amassed 391 yards total offense in the opening half and finished with 647. Backup Jacques Patrick rushed for 124 yards on 20 carries, and Francois finished with 92 on 10 attempts as the Seminoles finished with 478 on the ground.
Flowers had little success throwing the ball for South Florida after connecting with Adams on their long TD play to begin the game, however the dual-threat quarterback had a big day running with 159 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Most of the damage came after the Bulls fell behind 45-14. The junior only completed two passes in the first half and finished 5 of 14 for 160 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Mack led the American Athletic Conference in rushing each of the past two seasons and entered Saturday averaging 9.6 yards per carry. The Seminoles limited him to 42 yards on 12 carries, leaving Mack 95 yards shy of USF’s career rushing record.
Florida State: Seminoles return to Tallahassee for their ACC home opener against North Carolina.
South Florida: The Bulls begin their AAC schedule next Saturday at Cincinnati.