TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The emergence of Florida State freshman speedster Dalvin Cook is giving the Seminoles a running game they can lean on, adding productive balance to their offensive attack.
Cook is finishing so strong that he's threatening Greg Allen's 33-year-old Florida State freshman rushing record of 888 yards. And it couldn't come at a better time for the second-ranked Seminoles (12-0, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 4 CFP), who square off against No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2, No. No. 11 CFP) in Saturday's ACC championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson ranks Cook among the best backs he's had to prepare for all season, comparing him to Georgia's Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
"He's at least that caliber," Johnson said. "He's got great speed and really catches the ball well."
The 6-foot, 200-pound Cook has 728 yards after topping the 100-yard mark for the third time with career-best 144 yards in Saturday's 24-19 win over Florida. His effort helped the Seminoles close out a second straight perfect regular season with their 28th consecutive victory.
"There's not enough positive things you can say about Dalvin," said senior center Cameron Erving, a two-time winner of the ACC's "best blocker award." ''He's been very, very vital to our success."
Cook's best game came when senior tailback Karlos Williams went out early against the Gators with a concussion and quarterback Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, suffered through his poorest performance at Florida State. Winston was intercepted four times while completing 12 of 24 passes to teammates good for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
But Cook's success was far from instant at Florida State.
The freshman from Miami didn't play in the Seminoles' season opener in Dallas in late August, managing 61 yards on 13 carries against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents before breaking loose at Syracuse in mid-October with a 122-yard performance.
He also just missed the century mark with a 92-yard effort at Miami in mid-November two weeks after netting 110 yards in a come-from-behind win at ACC rival Louisville.
Cook has gained 600 yards on 100 carries n Florida State's last seven games, breaking loose for scoring runs of 44, 40, 38, and 26 yards over that span.
"Really fast," Georgia Tech's Johnson emphasized.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher knew he had a gem in Cook, but wasn't sure when he'd be polished.
Fisher said he noticed that he hadn't yelled at Cook about one thing or another over a few days of practice.
"He's blocking so and so and that guy's a good player ... he's running and making that guy miss who is a really good player," Fisher explained. "He's still got a ways to go, but he's developed himself in all phases."
Fisher has a policy that freshmen and assistant coaches can't talk to the media during the season and therefore Cook wasn't available to be interviewed. But he has made a statement with his recent performances.
"He's strong, great eyes, great vision," Fisher said. "It's between him and the good Lord. Those things, you just recruit those."
Cook, who enrolled at Florida State in January, had been an early commit to archrival Florida, but shied away after the Gators poor 2013 season.
With WIlliams' status uncertain because of the concussion, the load will likely fall on Cook against the Yellow Jackets.
Although a few inches taller and 25 pounds heavier, Cook reminds some of Warrick Dunn, Florida State's career rushing leader. Dunn put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons after running for 511 as a freshman on the Seminoles' 1993 national championship team.
Dunn had scored the decisive touchdown on a short pass from Heisman winner Charlie Ward for the clinching score at Florida and was then a key player on the game-winning drive against Nebraska in the national title game at the Orange Bowl.
Cook may be counted on in a similar manner as Florida State begins its quest for its fourth national title and another unbeaten season Saturday.