Cook finds rhythm, delivers historic performance
Folklore and mythos come with a price. The premium for anyone who listens to such thing is left to wonder if the story itself is either real, fake or a mixture.
The saga began Saturday with University of South Florida linebacker Zack Bullock coming off the edge only to watch Florida State sophomore tailback Dalvin Cook run right past him. It continued with another USF linebacker Nick Holman trying to grab Cook's jersey, only to be left swiping at thin air.
Cook slid between two USF players and the footrace was on. Bulls cornerback Nate Godwin appeared to have an angle and launched at Cook with both arms extended, only to fall to earth at his nadir because Cook was too strong.
Godwin's effort was enough to disrupt Cook's balance, allowing USF safety Tajee Fullwood to catch up. Fullwood grabbed Cook's waist and was dragged five yards into the end zone.
What may have been Cook's most comprehensive run against the Bulls wasn't even a touchdown. It was a 50-yard gallop because one foot went out of bounds when Godwin attempted to tackle him. The fact he was denied a touchdown could arguably be the hardest part of this story to believe.
Dalvin Cook's legend grew Saturday. FSU's workhorse ran 30 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 victory over USF in front of 72,811 at Doak Campbell Stadium. His performance officially registered as the second-greatest performance by a Seminole running back.
Only Greg Allen's 322 rushing yards against Western Carolina in 1981 bested what Cook achieved.
"I prepared and had a good week at practice," Cook said. "The whole team did. The offensive line, they were prepared and I felt like we were going to run well today. The first half, we didn't run the ball too good.
"I don't know the stats or anything, but in the second half we had to open up the passing game more and we had to come out strong. We had to be grinding and get comfortable."
FSU's offense, which couldn't be stopped in a 59-16 win against Texas State in Week 1, started slow a week later. The Bulls's 4-2-5 scheme, which is in its first year of use, became problematic for an offensive line making its second start as a unit.
Protection was not a given for redshirt senior quarterback Everett Golson, who opened with six consecutive incompletions. Golson's first completed pass didn't come until the second quarter.
FSU needed someone to break the monotony, and it turned to Cook.
"That's what good players do," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "When you need them, they step up and do that. But guys had to make blocks for him to do that, too, so it was a great -- that's why you get those great players."
The Seminoles went ahead 7-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter on a 74-yard Cook run. A massive hole opened on the right side and Cook was given an ocean of space. At the first sign of a roadblock, which came in the form of USF defensive back Jamie Byrd, Cook sidestepped and worked his way to the left.
USF managed to tie the game in the second quarter, and the Seminoles' passing game still wasn't right. Cook's 24-yard touchdown with 13:08 left in the third quarter did more than give the Seminoles a 14-7 lead.
It was the start of a 27-7 second-half stretch that ultimately put the Bulls away. A barrage, started by Cook, was ended by him as well. He ripped off a 37-yard touchdown scamper with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter for the eventual 34-14 final score.
"It's very strong," junior receiver Jesus Wilson said of Cook's work ethic. "He is a very hard worker. You should see him during the week. He's a very hard worker."
"He gave us hell on defense this whole week [in practice]," FSU defensive back Marquez White said.
Cook, at least during the open portion of practice, is constantly going. If he's doing drills, he's usually the first or second player to take reps. His agility was on display Thursday, looking faster than nearly every running back going through drills.
He's been that constant presence at practice since he was cleared of misdemeanor battery in late August.
FSU's first game witnessed Cook and Pender combine to menace Texas State. Cook ran 19 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Pender chipped in with 14 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.
The duo provided Golson a chance to ease into the scheme in his first start. Saturday provided something different.
"He's the real deal. He's the best. He's the best," said Bulls coach Willie Taggart. "We tried to recruit him. His high school coach was on our staff at one point. He's a tremendous talent. He showed that today. For us, we didn't do a good job of tackling when it came to Dalvin. We knew it wasn't just going to take one guy; we had to gang tackle him."
Cook's latest dazzling performance adds to what's been an impressive career thus far.
At Miami's Central High School, he was a Mr. Florida Football winner who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also helped Central win a state title as a senior.
Cook's first year at FSU saw him rush for 1,008 yards and set a freshman record for most yards in a season.
Through two games, he already has 412 yards and could go from a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate to becoming a legitimate option.
"Overall ... I felt like I had a great day today," Cook said. "I felt like I had a rhythm and I just went with it."