TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A short week of rest and practice, along with a handful of starters sidelined by injury, might have lent a little more drama than usual to Florida State’s home opener against FCS power Charleston Southern.
But the Seminoles made quick work of the Buccaneers in the first half, then cruised in the second as coach Jimbo Fisher emptied his bench in a 52-8 victory in front of 75,831 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois continued his hot start to the season, connecting on 25 of 32 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Francois also tossed his first career interception midway through the second quarter, but, by then, FSU was well on its way to a lopsided victory.
The Seminoles are 2-0 for the sixth straight season. They’ll open ACC play in a marquee matchup at No. 13 Louisville next Saturday (noon, ABC).
“I was very proud of the way we started the game. We were efficient early in the game,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Still not as clean as I wanted to be during the plays at the end … just a little lethargic there, kind of, on offense.”
Having played their season opener on Monday night, the Seminoles effectively had just two days of practice to get ready for the Buccaneers, who entered the game ranked seventh in the FCS Coaches Poll.
And FSU on Saturday was without left guard Kareem Are (concussion), right guard Wilson Bell (ankle) and fullback Freddie Stevenson (ankle), which led to extended action for Derrick Kelly, Colton Plante and Landon Dickerson, a true freshman who made his first career start in place of Bell.
Charleston Southern (1-2), meanwhile, entered the game with some adversity of its own: The school announced Friday that 14 players had been suspended due to potential NCAA violations related to purchases at the school’s bookstore.
That made what was already a steep uphill climb virtually insurmountable.
Behind a hot connection between Francois and junior receiver Travis Rudolph, the Seminoles scored touchdowns on each of their first four possessions and led 28-0 after one quarter.
A pair of TD passes from Francois to Rudolph (seven catches, 105 yards) sandwiched Dalvin Cook’s first touchdown run of the season, and senior Bobo Wilson polished off the scoring spree with an 89-yard punt return for a score.
It was FSU’s first punt return for a touchdown since Tyler Hunter did it against Duke in 2012.
“He outkicked the coverage,” Wilson said, referring to CSU punter Truett Burns. “I saw that and knew I had like 10 yards between me and the next defender, so I just made it happen.”
“That was wonderful,” Fisher said.
Cook, for his part, finished with fewer total yards than he did in last week’s opener against Mississippi, but, on occasion, appeared to flash more of the burst and elusiveness that have become his trademarks over the last few seasons.
He ran for 83 yards on just 11 carries, 37 of which came on a winding, weaving touchdown run through the heart of the Charleston Southern defense midway through the third quarter.
That was the second of two touchdowns for Cook, who was held scoreless last week.
“It was good to see him get back. He wasn’t in a groove (against Ole Miss),” Fisher said. “Then he started to get some runs and we started seeing the old Dalvin coming back.”
Cook’s fellow running back, sophomore Jacques Patrick, also had an impressive sequence in which he touched the ball five times on a six-play drive, and finished it off with a two-yard plunge into the end zone.
The 6-2, 230-pound sophomore posted 26 yards on his five carries, often at the expense of would-be tacklers from Charleston Southern.
“Coach Fisher always preaches, ‘Do your job,’ and that’s my job,” Patrick said. “I’m a bigger guy, so I’ve got to make guys pay every time I get the ball.”
The Seminoles lowered the throttle in the second half, but that didn’t stop sophomore Auden Tate from scoring the first touchdown of his career late in the third quarter.
A 6-foot-5 receiver from Tampa, Tate has been pegged as an obvious red-zone target since a breakout performance at the Garnet & Gold Game earlier this year.
And Tate lived up to that billing Saturday, leaping up and over a CSU defender for a 1-yard touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone.
Freshman Ricky Aguayo later made it a perfect 7-for-7 on the season with a 46-yard field goal that provided the final margin.
On defense, the Seminoles received a game-high five tackles and two sacks from freshman Brian Burns, who helped corral CSU’s rushing attack to just 152 yards on 39 attempts.
The Buccaneers, whose offense is based on the triple-option, had averaged 287.0 rushing yards per game.
The Seminoles also continued a welcome trend of creating turnovers. FSU recovered three of six Charleston Southern fumbles and turned those into 14 points. Through two games, the Seminoles have forced seven turnovers while committing just one of their own.
“We want to get at least four or five turnovers a game,” sophomore defensive back Marcus Lewis said. “We practice it. We’ve got drills that we do during the week, just to get the ball out. That’s what we preach. We’ve got to have turnovers.”
FSU’s defensive day did, however, come at a cost, as sophomore Derwin James left the game midway through the third quarter with a left knee injury and did not return.
Fisher after the game did not have an update on James’ status.
“We’ll have to wait see,” Fisher said. “See what the doctors say.”
With FSU’s first two wins in the books, eyes now turn to Louisville, where FSU will play the 13th-ranked Cardinals in what should be one of the marquee matchups of the conference slate.
Louisville turned heads in a 62-28 victory over Syracuse on Friday, and ESPN’s College Gameday pregame show is expected to be on hand when the Seminoles visit next week.
Which means that after a bit of a breather following their dramatic victory over Mississippi, the Seminoles are due for another stiff challenge.
“We’re going to be severely tested next week,” Fisher said. “So we’d better be ready.”