Michigan defense girds for ‘spectacular’ Dalvin Cook
Miami – Behind Florida State’s sizable offensive line is bruising running back Dalvin Cook, who has caught the attention of every Michigan defensive player.
Cook, a 5-11, 215-pound All-American from Miami, leads the 10th-ranked Seminoles (9-3), who will face sixth-ranked Michigan (10-2) in the Orange Bowl on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium. He gained 1,620 yards and scored 18 rushing touchdowns this season. He ranks seventh nationally, averaging 135 yards rushing a game.
The expectation is Cook, a junior, will leave Florida State after this bowl game for the NFL. He already is the Seminoles’ career rushing leader (4,319 yards), and is closing in on a few other records. He needs 72 yards to break the single-season rushing record he set last season, and he also is 284 yards shy of the ACC career rushing mark of 4,602 yards that was set by Ted Brown (North Carolina State, 1975-78).
He has earned the respect of the Wolverines.
“What he does is pretty spectacular,” said senior nose tackle Ryan Glasgow. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a back like him. It will look like someone has him dead to rights on the edge like an overhang guy unblocked and he’ll bounce it out and stutter step them. I think against Clemson he broke three 40-plus-yard runs on stuff that could have been tackled at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s pretty incredible, actually. You don’t believe it. He’s just great at creating his own space. And he’s fast. He’s way faster than I thought he would be. I know he’s kind of a bruising back, but he’s got some speed.”
Cook wants to erase memories of his Peach Bowl performance last year when he was held to 33 rushing yards on 18 carries against Houston. He and the Seminoles are facing a Michigan defense ranked No. 2 nationally (252.7 yards), and the Wolverines are ranked No. 13 nationally in run defense, yielding an average of 116.8 yards.
“It’s going to be a game where you have to be patient,” Cook told reporters last week. “You have to take the two or three yards and get four yards. We have to do a good job of that, keep your feet going and managing the run at first. It’ll open up.
“We’re going to play our football – that’s run the football and pass the football. We got better down the stretch in November. We got better as the season ended. We’re peaking right now, where we want to be to end the season. We’re playing a good Michigan team so why not? We’re peaking at the end. It’s going to be a big game.”
Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas, part of a secondary that has helped Michigan to the No. 1 ranking in passing yards allowed (135.9), said the best back the Wolverines faced this season was Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.
“That man is a different breed,” Thomas said of Barkley. “He’s a great player. He runs fast, he runs hard He was physical. I expect to see him in the NFL draft pretty soon.”
And then there’s Cook, who the Wolverines have only seen on film but are equally impressed.
“Cook is their go-to guy,” Thomas said. “He’s really fast, he’s really physical. From watching film, he’s got a lot of long runs in his resume. So we’ve got to stop him from his long runs. We have to make sure he stays between the tackles. One thing he likes to do is run behind the tackles and bounce it out, so we have to make sure we stay in our gaps, make sure we contain him and rally to the ball.”
The Seminoles think they have a feel for Michigan’s defense. After all, they play in the ACC with Boston College, and Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown led the Eagles’ No. 1-ranked defense last season. Cook was held to 54 yards on 15 carries against Boston College in 2015.
“They do a good job,” Cook said of Michigan’s defense. “They have a bunch of good athletes, a bunch of seniors. They have a bunch of guys that know what they’re doing. We faced a similar front to this, Boston College. There’s a lot of twists and turns to get guys free, get guys in gaps. They do a good job of that because they’re experienced and know what they’re doing. So stick in your tracks and hit your leads.”
Brown certainly will instruct the Wolverines that the key to stopping Florida State will be stopping Cook.
“Watching him on film, he’s really special,” Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst said. “He’s just fast. If he gets outside and on the edge. … That’s the biggest part is stopping those big runs.”
Cook hopes for a big performance playing at home before friends and family in what could be his Florida State farewell.
“I played a lot of big high school games in it,” Cook said of the Hard Rock Stadium. “To finish our season off in a big bowl game in that stadium, it’ll definitely mean a lot. I’m going to give it my all.
“It’s going to be something to remember.”