Strong Second Half Lifts Florida State Over Louisville 41-21, Secures Bowl Eligiblity
By Tim Linafelt, Seminoles.com Senior Writer // October 18, 2015
ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights from the Seminoles 41-21 win against Louisville. (Florida State Seminoles Video)
TALLHASSEE, FLORIDA (Seminoles.com) – Florida State needed all of one offensive possession to rally from a deficit and beat Miami last week.
The Seminoles took a little longer on Saturday, but the results were no less impressive.
After trailing Louisville by a point at halftime, Florida State responded with one of its most complete halves of the season in a 41-21 victory over the Cardinals.
The Seminoles improved to 6-0 (4-0 ACC) thanks to sterling efforts from their quarterback, their running back, a budding star at receiver and their defense.
ABOVE VIDEO: Interview with Florida State Football Head Coach Jimbo Fisher following the Noles victory over Louisville. (Florida State Seminoles Video)
FSU is bowl-eligible for a 34th straight season, the longest active streak in the nation, heading into next week’s meeting with Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“I think you saw a tale of two halves,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think you saw what a team can do in the first half when it’s not totally focused or it presses itself.
“In the second half, when the team relaxed, it played up to its capability.”
Quarterback Everett Golson’s recent upward trend went from steady to steep.
The fifth-year senior, playing in only his sixth game at FSU, threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns while completing 68.4 percent (26 of 38) of his passes.
Golson has increased his passing yardage total for four straight weeks and has yet to turn the ball over this season.
“He’s playing aggressive football but smart football,” Fisher said. “… He’s respecting the game. If you do things right, this game is going to reward you.”
The same could be said for junior receiver Kermit Whitfield. After a quiet sophomore season in 2014, Whitfield has emerged as one of Golson’s go-to targets this season, and his emergence culminated with a career performance on Saturday.
ABOVE VIDEO: Interview with Florida State Football WR Kermit Whitfield following the Noles victory over Louisville. (Florida State Seminoles Video)
The Orlando native caught nine passes for 172 yards against the Cardinals, and he put the Seminoles on top for good with a 70-yard catch-and-run across the middle of the field midway through the third quarter.
“I know I’m the fastest guy on the field,” said Whitfield, who outran three Louisville defenders on his way to the end zone.
“When I start picking my legs up, I know no one is going to catch me.”
Cook, meanwhile, took a little while to get going. But once he did, it was the same script as usual – highlight-reel runs, piles of yardage and a few trips to the end zone.
Cook went into the break with just 28 yards, his lowest first-half total of the season. He then took off for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters and finished with 223 total yards (163 rushing, 60 receiving) from scrimmage.
ABOVE VIDEO: Interview with Florida State Football RB Dalvin Cook following the Noles victory over Louisville. (Florida State Seminoles Video)
Cook’s two third-quarter touchdowns were part of a 28-7 FSU run that turned a 7-6 halftime deficit into a lopsided lead.
“It was just about making plays that were there,” Cook said. “In the first half, we didn’t make big plays that were there.
“The plays were there to be made and we made them in the third quarter.”
That includes some plays that didn’t seem so obvious at first.
On FSU’s first drive of the third quarter, Cook took a handoff to the right and seemed to be bottled up for a modest gain. Instead, he ran past one Louisville defender, broke through two more and even sent a pair crashing into each other before streaking down the sideline for a 54-yard TD that put the Seminoles back on top.
He later added a 14-yard score to put his season touchdown at 11. Through five games, Cook has rushed for 955 yards – the best six-game stretch to open a season in ACC history – and has gained 1,086 total yards from scrimmage.
Florida State’s single-season rushing record is 1,242, set by Warrick Dunn in 1995.
“I mean, Dalvin is Dalvin,” Fisher said. “I don’t know what to say. He just makes play after play.”
The FSU defense did its part by forcing two third-quarter turnovers that Golson & Co. parlayed into 14 points.
The first came when freshman safety Derwin James blitzed off the edge and delivered a punishing hit to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson coughed up the ball and fellow freshman Josh Sweat recovered at the Cardinals’ 36-yard line.
Three plays later, Cook was in the end zone and the Seminoles led 27-14.
On Louisville’s next play from scrimmage, pressure forced Jackson to heave an errant throw downfield, where safety Javien Elliot, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship in fall camp, was waiting to grab his first career interception.
That play led to Golson’s second touchdown pass, a 14-yarder to Travis Rudolph that effectively sealed the game.
“Everything was quiet,” Elliott said.
“Once I caught the ball, that’s just when I heard everything, the reaction from my teammates. It was just a huge moment.”
Although Louisville’s Jackson enjoyed the best passing effort of his young career (20-35, 307 yards, three touchdowns), the Seminoles kept the elusive freshman in check on the ground.
Jackson came into the game with 435 rushing yards, third-most of any freshman in the country, but gained only 32 yards on Saturday and averaged just 1.7 yards per carry.
That’s thanks in large part to a Florida State defensive front that paved the way for five sacks and seven tackles for loss. It was FSU’s most sacks in a game in nearly two years.
“I think the defense played real well, especially on the quarterback,” Fisher said.
“We pressured him, got sacks. He made some scrambles, made some plays, but we got him on the ground a lot.”