With a Heisman winner at quarterback, an elite receiver and tight end and a senior-laden offensive line, it was a little curious to hear Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher place a premium on freshmen development.
“How quickly those freshmen develop will be the key for us,” he said, “because of not only their ability to get on the field and make plays, but when guys get hurt, being ready to step up.”
The Florida State freshmen had to do both last week in a 42-31 victory over Louisville, which jumped out to a 21-0 first-half lead.
In the second half, the freshmen scored four touchdowns that all covered at least 38 yards. They combined for 244 yards, most of which also came after halftime. Both of the No. 2 Seminoles’ go-ahead touchdowns came on long scoring plays by freshmen.
The (young) cavalry officially arrived for FSU last Thursday, and it came at the most opportune time.
“I like where our team is going because [the freshmen] are allowing us to expand our offense, our defense and our special teams because of their development,” Fisher said.
The emergence of blue-chip receiver Travis Rudolph came a game earlier against Notre Dame, a game in which the former ESPN 300 recruit had six receptions for 80 yards. Fellow first-year player Ermon Lane has not made quite the impact Rudolph has, but Lane has two 40-plus-yard receptions this season. The latest was a long catch and run across the middle on a pass that looked destined to fall into the opposing team's hands.
The freshman star of late has been running back Dalvin Cook, a top-25 recruit in the 2014 class who earned more playing time and recognition throughout the month of October. He made a case for the title of FSU’s best running back and even more touches with his second-half effort against Louisville.
Cook, who had 110 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries for the game against Louisville, swung momentum in the Seminoles’ favor midway through the third quarter. The drive began at the Florida State 20-yard line, but it took only five plays -- four of which went to Cook -- for the Seminoles to score and pull within 24-21. Of the 80 yards on that scoring drive, Cook accounted for all but six of them.
"He's a very unique talent,” Fisher said. “He's now learned to work at the pace and do the things that we want to do."
Florida State is a flawed team, as is every team at this stage of the season. But the Seminoles’ freshmen are starting to fill the gaps left when several playmakers from the 2013 team left for the NFL.
“I don't look at them as freshmen anymore,” senior Rashad Greene said. “They're in the big leagues now, and you got to step up and be a man and make big plays."