Dalvin Cook has accomplished a great deal over his three years at Florida State.
Entering the Orange Bowl, he holds the school records for career rushing yards (4,319), career rushing touchdowns (45), and has had the two most productive seasons for an FSU running back over the last two seasons (1,691 in 2015 is most in a single season by an FSU RB in program history and 1,620 yards this season is second most).
So far in 2016, he has surpassed 1,600 rushing yards, along with 426 receiving yards, over 12 games, doing so while facing off against six defenses that ranked inside the top-50 nationally in rushing defense. As such, it just makes sense that Florida State’s bowl game comes against the Michigan Wolverines, who possess one of the best all-around defenses in the country.
The Wolverines, in their first year under defensive coordinator Don Brown, are allowing 116.75 rush yards per game, 13th in the FBS, and are doing so while surrendering only 3.14 yards per carry, seventh fewest in the nation.
With Michigan’s pass defense even better, ranked No. 1 in passing yards per game allowed (135.9), the responsibility for keeping the ball moving will fall heavily on Cook’s shoulders. When addressing the media ahead of the matchup, he seemed well aware of the challenge ahead of him.
“Athletic, physical. They do a lot of things because they are so long and athletic,” Cook said. “They do a good job of rushing the passer and getting into the backfield. We’ve just got to control the line of scrimmage.”
For as much of a challenge as the U of M defense presents for the Seminoles, the Wolverines are equally well-versed on how tricky Cook can be.
“I venture to say he’s probably the best running back I’ve watched on film while in college,” U of M defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow said. “The way he sets up his blocks, the way he can make a man miss in space, his breakaway speed, it’s pretty amazing to see on film.”
“He’s got all the attributes. The vision, the quickness, the cuts he makes are elite,” Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon said of Cook. “We are going to have to tackle very well.”
“When you watch film and you see all those things that he can do very well, it causes issues for a team if you’re not prepared for that, you don’t scheme for that,” Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley added.
As it turns out, Brown has prior experience handling Cook. He was Boston College’s defensive coordinator from 2013-2015 and twice went up against Cook. You could say that his memories are not fond ones.
“Every time [Dalvin Cook] gets his hands on the ball, I can’t breathe. I’m 61-years old and I just [hyperventilate],” Brown said. “He’s a very, very good player. I would say if he’s not the best, he’s one of the top three players we will have played against all year.”
In looking for the closest comparison to Cook who the Wolverines have played this season, many of their players turned to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Barkley, who finished the regular season with 1,302 rushing yards over 13 games, did not break out against Michigan. He was held to 59 yards on 15 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and was kept out of the endzone, a place that he found 19 times this season in all. However, Barkley did manage 77 receiving yards against the Wolverines, an aspect that Cook has also been able to exploit at times this season.
Now, Barkley’s underwhelming showing is not to say that Michigan is unbeatable on the ground. The Wolverines have allowed 200+ rushing yards on three occasions this season, surrendering a season-high 275 rush yards to UCF in week two, 217 to Michigan State, and 206 at Ohio State in their regular-season finale. For Florida State to keep this game close, Cook may need to have a prolific performance in what could very well be his final game as a Seminole.
Cook’s efforts may be aided slightly by quarterback Deondre Francois, as Michigan’s stout rush defense has been exposed at times this season by mobile quarterbacks. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett racked up 125 rushing yards against the Wolverines to help lead the comeback victory. That being said, the brunt of the work will likely fall to the Seminoles’ star running back against a U of M defense that features 10 senior starters.
In spite of all this surrounding talk about the Seminoles as underdogs and whether or not Cook will forgo his senior season, the junior is just embracing the chance to play a bowl game in the stadium he calls “Doak South” in front of many family members in his hometown.