Florida State University

The FSU offense can Cook up touchdowns inside the red zone with the best of them

The Seminoles are blessed with not only one of the nation’s top running backs in Dalvin Cook, but have the nation’s best red-zone offense. When the Noles get the ball inside the 20, they almost always score.
The Seminoles are blessed with not only one of the nation’s top running backs in Dalvin Cook, but have the nation’s best red-zone offense. When the Noles get the ball inside the 20, they almost always score. AP

Florida beat LSU with a goal-line stand.

Doing the same to Florida State — if it gets to that point on Saturday — could prove far more challenging for the unyielding Gators.

The Seminoles are blessed with not only one of the nation’s top running backs in Dalvin Cook, but have the nation’s best red-zone offense. When the Noles get the ball inside the 20, they almost always score.

Somehow.

Some way.

“When you get inside the 5, your mentality as a running back is to put the ball in the end zone, however you get it done,” Cook said.

“You’ve got to play lower. You’ve got to get it done.”

LSU didn’t get it done in their do-or-die loss last week to Florida, an outcome that landed the Gators a spot against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game on Dec. 3.

Before the Gators get to that point, though, they have to deal with the Seminoles in a state rivalry that has been all FSU in recent years. The Seminoles have won the past three meetings between the two football powers and are a one touchdown favorite to extend the streak Saturday in Tallahassee.

And Cook — the Miami Central High product — is expected to figure prominently. The junior has already broken FSU’s career rushing record and was named this week as one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back.

He’s given Florida nothing but trouble.

As a true freshman in 2014, Cook rushed for 144 yards against the Gators. Last year, he piled up 183 yards, with 150 of those coming in a fourth quarter in which he also scored two touchdowns.

That’s why Gators head coach Jim McElwain said “you can't blink” when Cook has the ball in his hands. McElwain called Cook “the most explosive player in all of college football.”

The two teams are a study in stark contrasts.

The Gators have the nation’s best red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score only 65 percent of the time when the ball is inside their 20.

The Seminoles, on the other hand, have the nation’s best red-zone offense, scoring 96 percent of the time in those situations.

But, with Cook, FSU might hold the edge in those situations.

“Those are the toughest yards you’ve going to have to get all game,” Cook said. “Third-and-one, or first-and-goal, those are going to be the toughest yards. There’s nowhere to go. They’re going to pack everybody in. You’ve just got to play lower and get the ball in the end zone.”

Cook is fully cognizant of the Florida defense.

The stubborn Gators rank No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense.

“They man you up,” Cook said. “Good defenses do that.”

But Cook has turned in some of his best performances in the biggest games. He rushed for 169 yards and four touchdowns in the Seminoles’ loss to Clemson earlier in the season and rang up 150 yards in FSU’s win over Miami.

Now comes Florida.

“These are the games you come to this school for, playing games like this, playing Florida, Miami — all those games,” he said. I’m going to do everything in my power to make that big play at the end.”

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