The Bulls were met with an unwelcome case of deja vu Saturday in their 55-35 loss to Florida State, beginning with the Seminoles’ first play of the game.
FSU running back Dalvin Cook, who ran for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 win against USF in 2015, was an unstoppable force once again against the Bulls Saturday in front of 52,485 fans.
Cook, who ran all over the Bulls for 329 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns Saturday, kicked off his career day with a 75-yard touchdown on the Seminoles first offensive snap.
“Dalvin cook is an amazing player,” defensive tackle Deadrin Senat said. “Our game plan was just to stop him from running inside and he ran it outside. We wanted him to run inside and we just struggled on that.”
After starting 2016 without a 100-yard rushing game in the first three weeks, Cook broke out in a big way Saturday, silencing any doubters who would question if last season’s 1,691 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns were a fluke performance.
“I don’t know why it was a question,” Cook said. “I go out there and play the same football every week and whether it’s to run the ball or pass the ball, I just did a better job this week.”
Despite taking over the game in near-identical fashion to last season’s matchup between the two teams, USF couldn’t stop Cook all game long.
On offense, USF (3-1) showed no fear of No. 13 Florida State from the opening snap, as quarterback Quinton Flowers lofted a pass down the right sideline to senior receiver Rodney Adams for an 84-yard touchdown to the thunderous approval of the largest home crowd in four years.
Even after the ‘Noles immediately responded with Cook’s opening touchdown, the Bulls again took the lead right back on a 1-yard touchdown run by Marlon Mack to cap off a nine-play drive.
With a quick-strike offense and a thunderous crowd behind them, USF looked as if it were in for a shootout with the Seminoles.
However, it would be until the final minutes of the third quarter before the Bulls scored again, as the Cook-led Seminoles scored 38 unanswered points to push the game out of reach.
“I thought it was going to be a great game,” Senat said. “I thought we were going to win today, but that didn’t turn out as planned. They are an explosive team; Give them credit.
“We just did a poor, poor job of tackling and that hurt us. That hurt us from the beginning of the game, from the first play that hurt us. So we just have to come back and be together. We are one team and one game isn’t going to hurt us. We have to come back and take this personal, take it very, very personal. Our tackling has to be way better.”
As USF’s defense failed to contain Cook and his fellow backs, which racked up 478 rushing yards, the Bulls’ offense struggled to maintain pace with the high-powered offense of Florida State.
Following touchdowns on both of USF’s first two drives, the Bulls failed to muster a single first down until their final drive of the first half.
“We just weren’t executing the plays,” Flowers said. “I feel like we lost focus. Just weren’t doing what we were supposed to do. You know me, as a quarterback, I have to keep those guys locked in, and that’s something I didn’t do. At the end of the day, we just kept playing, we just kept fighting.”
Despite failing to upset FSU in front of the nation on ABC, Taggart and the Bulls still have their sights set on a conference championship, with an upcoming game at Cincinnati on Saturday to open AAC play.
“The preseason is over with, the real season starts now,” Taggart said. “They’re all conference games from here on out and our goal is to win this conference. They are all right in front of us.
“We’ve got a very talented team in Cincinnati, we have to go on the road in a very hostile environment and we have to come back ready to practice and ready to go tomorrow and put this game behind us. There’s nothing we can do now but learn from it and try to see to it that we don’t ever put up a performance like that going forward.”