Louisville’s Todd Grantham has been coaching defenses for 26 years, 14 at the major college level and 11 in the NFL.
He has seen plenty of stud running backs as the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, and in college at Georgia and Louisville; and defensive line coach with the Indiandapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys.
So Grantham’s praise for Florida State’s Dalvin Cook should be noted.
“He’s the most explosive back that I’ve seen in quite a while,” Grantham told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “He’s a guy that if you give him a seam he can hit it and he can go the distance. He can run through tackles.”
Grantham is tasked with slowing the nation’s second-leading rusher as the Cardinals (2-3, 1-1 ACC) meet the No. 11 Seminoles (5-0, 3-0) Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium (noon, ESPN). Cook is in the midst of one of the most extraordinary seasons in FSU history having gained 732 yards in five games, a pace that will break Warrick Dunn’s single-season school record of 1,242 yards in the eighth game.
Cook is coming off a performance against Miami in which he rushed for 222 yards, caught three passes for 47 yards and scored three touchdowns, a game that the Seminoles were not sure he would even play a week earlier after pulling a hamstring against Wake Forest.
But even with just two carries against Wake (94 yards), Cook is among the top 10 nationally in four categories, including second in yards per game (158.4) and third in yards per carry (9). He is averaging an astounding 43.2 yards on his nine touchdowns, which includes runs of 94, 74 and 72 yards.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the nation’s leading rusher with 1,022 yards and the back by which all backs are being measured this season, is averaging 8.59 yards per carry.
And Cook has faced more difficult run defenses. Not counting Texas State (vs. FSU) and McNeese (vs. LSU), the Seminoles’ four opponents’ run defense have an average rank of 40.5; LSU’s opponents have an average of 89.6 nationally.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was asked this week whether he’s ever been around a back with Cook’s ability.
“He’s right up there, they don’t get a lot better,” Fisher said before adding. “We get caught up in [ability]. It’s phenomenal but it’s the intangibles. It’s just the ability to compete, the ability to learn, the mental toughness, the fortitude, and his drive to be great.
“There’s so many qualities about him that when you put with that ability, then you have a very, very, very good player.”
Grantham and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino agree the Cardinals, who enter having allowed 146.8 rushing yards per game (51st in the country) must keep Cook from getting to the edge and tackle him with multiple players.
“He’s an exceptional running back with great speed and that’s what concerns you the most is his great speed,” Petrino said.
Cook did not practice early in the week, giving his hamstring more rest. He returned Wednesday and had two solid days of work.
Cook is not the only reason Fisher is satisfied with the progress of his offense. Senior quarterback Everett Golson is coming off his best performance of the season, throwing for 291 yards while completing more than 75 percent of his passes against Miami.
And an improving passing game could make Cook even more dangerous.
“They really know what they are doing and what their identity is,” Petrino said. “It’s not just like it’s a running back that you have to stop. What they do in the passing game and the concepts that they run in the passing game are as good as there is in the country.”
Saturday: Louisville at No. 11 FSU
Kickoff: Noon; Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee.
TV/radio: ESPN; WFTL 850.
Favorite: FSU by 7 1/2.
Records: FSU 5-0 (3-0 ACC); Louisville 2-3 (1-1 ACC).
Series: FSU leads 13-2.
FSU injuries: Questionable — LB Terrance Smith (ankle); DB Marcus Lewis (knee). Out — OL Abdul Bello (knee); TE Jalen Wilkerson (shoulder); RB Mario Pender (lung); DB Tyrell Lyons (ACL); DB Ryan Green (shoulder).
Louisville injuries: Out — WR Alphonso Carter (hamstring); WR Jamari Staples (knee).