Louisville’s 63-20 win over Florida State was the biggest result of the college football season thus far. The Cardinals emerged as a legitimate contender in the ACC, while the Seminoles may have ruined their national championship chances.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson lent even more credibility to his Heisman campaign with another outstanding performance against FSU’s defense. The Noles’ potential Heisman candidates, however, did far less to help their stock.
That’s putting it lightly. Quarterback Deondre Francois and running back Dalvin Cook had their worst performances of the season in Saturday’s game.
Francois threw for 101 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 8-of-18 passing, while rushing for minus-34 yards on 12 attempts. Cook was limited to 54 yards on 16 carries, which matched his second-lowest rushing total of the last two seasons.
In fairness, the duo should not be solely blamed for Saturday’s loss. FSU’s defense was responsible for allowing Louisville and arguably the best player in college football to score 63 points. Yet, the absence of Francois and Cook can’t be overlooked.
As heralded as Jackson was entering the season, Cook was the preseason ACC favorite to contend for the Heisman. The junior was being compared to LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey as the nation’s best all-around running back.
So far in 2016, Cook’s rushing yards have decreased in each game. He went from 91 in Week 1 to 83 in Week 2. The junior has also been held out of the end zone in two of his first three games. His only two touchdowns came against Charleston Southern in Week 2.
Despite the decline, head coach Jimbo Fisher claims there’s nothing wrong with his star running back.
“Everybody says it, but Dalvin is fine,” Fisher said during his press conference Monday. “There’s nothing wrong with Dalvin.”
Francois’ production has also slid since his impressive Week 1 debut. The redshirt freshman went from throwing for 419 yards in Week 1 to completing 39.9 percent of his passes in Week 3.
Francois’ rushing yards have also taken a dip during his past two appearances. The dual-threat quarterback recorded 59 yards on nine attempts in his college debut, but has failed to rush for positive yards in each of his last two games. In fairness, he’s been sacked 11 times, including five in Saturday’s loss.
Again, FSU’s loss was a team effort which can’t be blamed solely on Francois and Cook. However, the Noles need their star players to step up as the season progresses.
It’s not a matter of one or the other, either. Both players are equally valuable to the team’s success. Cook carried FSU in 2015 and is still the team’s most talented player, but the quarterback position is the most important in football.
Remember how disappointing the Noles were last year with the failed Everett Golson experiment? You can’t win without strong quarterback play.
In turn, Francois needs Cook to return to form. As a raw, inexperienced dual-threat quarterback, he will have less pressure sharing the backfield with an elite running back.
When Cook establishes the rushing attack, it will open up the passing attack. It also makes it easier for Francois to excel as a second running option.
Both players are equally important to Florida State’s success. The Noles’ championship hopes aren’t dead yet. There’s still a chance that the domino effect of teams losing could play to their favor.
Make no mistake about this next point, however: FSU will need both Francois and Cook to be standout performers in order to salvage its season.