Just watching Dalvin Cook on film can be hazardous to an opposing coach’s health.
“Let me tell you something, every time No. 4 [Cook] has his hands on the ball, I can’t breathe,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “I’m 61 years old, and I just [inhales sharply], and then we get him on the ground and you move on to the next play and start breathing again.”
Cook hopes to leave the Wolverines, like most of the college football teams that he’s gone up against over the past three seasons, gasping for air when Florida State takes on Michigan Friday night at 8 p.m. in Capital One Orange Bowl.
The Wolverines may be the last college team Cook makes look foolish with his talent for running the football.
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It was only five years ago that Cook, a star running back at Miami Central High, had one of his most memorable youth games at Hard Rock Stadium in a comeback win against Miami Booker T. Washington - a matchup that paired two of the nation’s best high school teams.
Cook will be back on that same field Friday night and possibly for the last time wearing FSU’s garnet and gold.
Although he hasn’t formally announced it, Cook is largely expected to declare for the upcoming NFL Draft and start outrunning professional defenders next fall.
“We call it Doak South,” said Cook in reference to Doak Campbell Stadium, the Seminoles’ home field. “Being in that stadium in front of my family, I always get that extra boost to go play, being in front of my family, being in front of my friends, being in my hometown. There’s no better feeling than that.”
Cook, who is rated the second-highest running back prospect by several draft pundits behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette, would leave FSU as the school’s all-time career and single-season rushing leader.
His career marks at FSU entering the Orange Bowl are 4,319 yards and 45 rushing touchdowns on 667 carries.
Michigan players and coaches almost to a consensus agree Cook is the best running back they have faced all season.
“He’s got all the attributes, the vision, the quickness, the cuts he makes are elite, and he’s impressive to watch on film, so we’re going to have to tackle really well,” Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon said.
Cook has run the ball 268 times for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Those marks are 71 yards and one score short of the school-record numbers he put up as a sophomore despite dealing with a nagging hamstring injury.
“Dalvin has been phenomenally consistent,” FSU co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. “He’s been very tough, very durable. I’ve always said that a running back has to be genetically superior to hold up because it’s the only position on the field that you can clip him, you can chop block him, you can basically do anything but grab his facemask or hit him when he’s on the ground. He’s shown up week after week, he has the ability to hit home runs from anywhere, which is really nice.”
Although his average yards per carry of 6.0 is down from last year’s 7.4, Cook has put up his best numbers catching the ball out of the backfield this season with 30 receptions for 426 yards and a touchdown.
In two career games in Miami against the rival Hurricanes, Cook has been spectacular, rushing for a combined 242 yards on 34 carries and two touchdowns, and a 59-yard touchdown catch in this year’s win over UM.
A Jim Brown Award winner in 2015 and ACC title game MVP his freshman season, Cook did not make the cut as a Heisman Trophy finalist despite his accomplishments.
Cook said this week he didn’t take not being invited to New York it as a slight, and that there is still plenty of room for him to learn and grow as a football player.
“There’s still stuff I’ve got to learn as a player on and off the field, really, so I’m progressing every day, on and off the field,” Cook said. “I accomplished a lot of things on the field and off the field, so there’s still stuff I can build on.”