With a lot of the preseason attention at Florida State focused on the quarterback competition, the running game was slightly overlooked.
By everyone it seems except Jimbo Fisher.
The coach of the 10th-ranked Seminoles turned to Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender in Saturday’s opener against Texas State, mainly kept it on the ground with 23 of the first 32 plays being runs.
Cook and Pender allowed Everett Golson to settle in and gain confidence as the game went along. The running backs combined for 248 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry as the Seminoles cruised to a 59-16 win.
Both backs are considered to have different running styles, but Fisher said during his Monday press conference he sees more similarities especially in their versatility.
“Dalvin is more boom, boom, boom, and burst really quick, but when Pender sticks that foot in the ground and goes, he may be even more sudden than Dalvin is in that regard,” Fisher said.
Cook’s status for most of the preseason was in doubt after a June incident where he was charged with hitting a woman outside a Tallahassee bar. During media day, team photos were taken with and without Cook. He was found not guilty on Aug. 24 and reinstated.
Going into the opener, Fisher said he wasn’t concerned about Cook’s conditioning but how he could take some early contact. The sophomore ended up rushing for 156 yards on 19 carries along with two first-quarter touchdowns. It was Cook’s fourth-straight, 100-yard game, making him the first Florida State back to do that since Greg Jones had five straight in 2001-02. Cook’s longest carry was a 36-yard touchdown after running through a huge hole on the left side.
Besides being able to get quickly back into football shape, Fisher said the other thing he has noticed about Cook is more maturity. Cook said after Saturday’s game that during his absence he still had a football mindset in terms of practice and conditioning.
“I was pushing myself and thinking those guys were out there with me. That’s how I was able to come back in and fit right back into the offense,” Cook said. “I did have to train myself. Just thinking, ‘I’ll be back out there with them.’ That was my motivation.”
Cook is an every-down back, but Pender showed some potential as a change-of-pace option. The junior, who had career highs in carries (14) and yards (92) against Texas State, is not as durable as Cook, but did have four carries for 10 or more yards. He also might be a better receiver out of the backfield as had a 17-yard reception on a screen during the second half.
A big key for Pender will be remaining healthy as he missed five games last year due to injuries.
Fisher said that being run heavy in the first half was by design to give the offensive line, which had four new starters, some confidence early.
Florida State started to mix it up a little bit in the second quarter before going a little more toward the pass in the second half. Golson had most of his passing yards in the second half as he finished 19 of 25 for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
After watching the film, Fisher said that Golson is continuing to adapt well to the offense.
Added Fisher: “He’s doing a good job of managing the game, interacting with his teammates, leading, doing those kinds of things, and learning our offense and doing a great job at decision making and accuracy.”
South Florida, which defeated Florida A&M 51-3 last Saturday, has seven starters returning on defense. The Bulls are mainly a nickel base defense but held the Rattlers to 12 rushing yards.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.