The no. 13 Florida State Seminoles' offense didn't wait long to return fire after the USF Bulls scored on their opening play. Dalvin Cook took a handoff and dashed 75 yards -- thanks in large part to a great second-level block from Kareem Are -- to even the score on the Seminoles' very first offensive snap.
It was the beginning of a massive day for Cook, who ran for a career-high 267 yards and finished the day with 329 total yards and two touchdowns. Cook has feasted on the Bulls over the last two seasons, running for a combined 533 yards during the two contests.
This is the best Florida State has looked on the ground all season. As a team, the 'Noles rushed for six touchdowns and 478 yards -- just a yard off the school's single-game rushing record -- on 63 carries, good for a 7.6-yard average. Jacques Patrick went over 100 yards on the day, carrying the ball 20 times for 124 yards and a score. FB Freddie Stevenson added a pair of touchdowns and QB Deondre Francois racked up 75 yards and a score on 10 carries.
It was an extremely productive day for the rushing attack and that was largely attributable to the play of the offensive line. Kareem Are looks to be fully healthy at left guard, Landon Dickerson had a strong game at right guard and Brock Ruble turned in a solid performance at right tackle. After shuffling the offensive line over the first three games, Florida State looks to have found a solid combination against USF.
That allowed the backs and Francois to find plenty of daylight when their numbers were called. While Dalvin Cook still looks to be favoring his shoulder ever so slightly, this is the closest to 100% the junior running back has looked all season. He was absolutely explosive in the first half, rushing for 185 yards and both scores on just nine carries. Meanwhile, Jacques Patrick looks to have finally become the punishing back that fans were anticipating when he signed two years ago. Patrick almost seemed to revel in the contact on Saturday, brutalizing several Bulls defensive backs and even pointing to a safety as if to call his shot down the sideline at one point. The combination of Cook and Patrick is as formidable as any set of backs in the nation.
FSU also got some nice production from Francois. The redshirt freshman quarterback looked sharp on several designed quarterback runs, though he does need to learn to slide and avoid taking too much contact.
Growing Pains for Francois
While Deondre Francois certainly had a few highlights, he continues to experience growing pains as well. After a hot start that saw him go 6/6 for 104 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, Francois was just 5/13 for 65 yards the rest of the way.
Granted, Florida State seemed more than happy to use its ground game to beat USF, but Francois did little to accent the rushing attack over the final three quarters. On several throws, the redshirt freshman looked to be aiming the ball more than letting it rip, which caused passes to end up at his receivers' feet. He also showed a lack of decisiveness on a second quarter sack that ended up halting a drive, lost a fumble to start the second half and overthrew Auden Tate on a vertical late in the game (though it did appear that Tate was interfered with). Even on his first quarter connection with Tate, which was good for 39 yards, Francois' ball placement left something to be desired-- had he hit Tate in stride the play likely would have gone for six.
Still, Francois was able to do enough to lead his team to a win. He came out hot, which was important considering the fact that USF scored on its opening two possessions, and was able to extend drives with both his arm and his legs. The ceiling is still very high for Francois, but he is going through some growing pains as we enter the middle of the season and Jimbo Fisher will need for him to continue to develop as the season progresses if FSU wants to climb back into the national conversation.
Lack of Killer Instinct
After the game, Jimbo Fisher was clearly not thrilled with his team. In fact, that theme started to present itself at halftime when Fisher told a sideline reporter that his team needed to do a better job of stepping on USF's neck.
He wasn't wrong.
FSU was afforded several opportunities in the first half to really put the Bulls out of the game and rarely did the Seminoles capitalize. After both teams traded scores in each of their first two possessions, FSU's offense kept its foot on the gas for the rest of the first quarter while its defense started to make stops. Up 28-14, at the start of the second quarter -- after FSU's defense forced its third straight punt -- the Seminoles could have really taken the air out of the Bulls and gone up by three touchdowns. That could have been devastating.
Instead, FSU went three-and-out. The Seminole defense again forced a stop and this time FSU stalled in the red-zone and settled for three.
On the very next drive, with USF now down 17 and looking to get back into the game, Tarvarus McFadden picked off USF QB Quinton Flowers to set the Seminoles up with great field position and once again FSU went three and out and failed to capitalize.
Yes, the Seminoles hung 55 and at one point in the second half it was 45-14. But truly great teams show a killer instinct when presented with chances to put their opponents out of a game early. FSU had several golden opportunities to really stick it to the Bulls in the second quarter and failed to take advantage of any of them.
Some of this can be attributed to the players, after all, this is still a fairly young offense. But some of it is also playcalling. There were points in this game where FSU's ground game was gashing the USF defense and Fisher would try to get too cute. You need balance, yes, but there's also something to be said for sticking with the hot hand.
Regardless of the reason behind the lost opportunities though, the Seminoles need to work on establishing that killer instinct going forward. When a team gives you a chance to really put your foot on its neck and take control, you just cannot afford to squander it. That's the difference between picking up a solid win and rolling a team. Need an example? Louisville displayed incredible killer instinct putting FSU out of the game in the first half just a week ago. Today, when given similar chances to truly knock USF out of the game early, FSU couldn't cash in.
Yes, the 'Noles led by 24 at the half and this thing was never really in question beyond the first ten minutes, but FSU left some money on the table today, so to speak. And moving forward that's just not something these 'Noles can afford to keep doing.