It was another memorable homecoming for Florida State all-time rusher and Miami native Dalvin Cook, and another unforgettable performance on his adopted home field – likely the last time he’ll play on that field as a collegian.
The Seminoles defeated Michigan 33-32 Friday night in one of the most exciting Capital One Orange Bowl games in history. And Cook, named the game’s Most Outstanding Player, had a lot to do with it.
Cook finished the night with 20 rushes for 145 yards and a touchdown, adding three catches for 62 yards. His 41 rushing yards and a 45-yard reception in the opening quarter led to FSU’s first 10 points.
And Cook’s 71-yard sprint down the left side of the field led to a 27-15 FSU lead early in the fourth quarter.
“You know, I still haven’t made my decision yet, so I’m still a member of my team for tonight,’’ Cook said after the game regarding his expected announcement in the coming days that he will forgo his junior season to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. “Being in this game was a childhood dream growing up, seeing previous guys play in the Orange Bowls before me. It was always a childhood dream to be up here on this podium with these guys. I’m just blessed to be up here and proud to be a part of this group.
Cook’s home site in Tallahassee has been Doak Campbell Stadium. But Hard Rock Stadium, the junior pointed out this week in Orange Bowl interviews, is his “Doak South.’’
Cook, with 4,464 yards in three seasons, graduated from Miami Central High, was integral in both victories against the Miami Hurricanes that were played at Hard Rock Stadium (as well as the one in Tallahassee) and set the tone from the start Friday.
But what lit up the crowd of 67,432 — tilted in FSU’s favor — was that 71-yard dash that set up a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Deondre Francois to make it 27-15 with 11:38 left in the game.
“It was third-and-22,’’ Cook said. “I just felt like I could take advantage of that moment because I felt like guys didn’t think I could break out at that point of time. I got in the open field with a couple of guys and made them miss. ...I just tried to go the distance and change the scoreboard for my team.’’
Cook wasn’t invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation (he placed 10th in the voting) and he finished behind D’Onta Foreman of Texas in the race for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back.
But the 5-11, 213-pound All-American, who rushed for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns this season, is projected by several NFL Draft analysts as the country’s No. 2 running back prospect behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
By halftime, Cook had 70 yards on 14 carries for a 5-yards-per-carry average – and two catches for 41 yards.
After Francois targeted Kermit Whitfield for a 23-yard catch on FSU’s first play from scrimmage, Cook rushed for 12 yards to the Michigan 40-yard line, 28 yards to the Michigan 12 and two plays later barreled into the end zone for a 7-0 Seminole lead.
In FSU’s second series, Cook took Francois’ pass for a 45-yard gain to the Michigan 30. Four plays later he rushed five yards to the Michigan 25 to set up Ricky Aguayo’s 42-yard field goal.
Florida State 10, Michigan 3, and the huge crowd of Seminoles fans in a frenzy.
Cook cooled down somewhat in the second quarter, but by halftime the Noles had a 20-6 lead.
“It was going to be a game of patience,’’ Cook said. “We knew what type of defense we were going to face. It was one of the top defense we were going to face all year. They opposed a different challenge to us -- big, rangy, experienced guys. Coach Fisher did a great job of knowing when to call plays and getting me in the right [position] to make them. And when he called my number I just answered the bell for him.’’
Then, when Michigan roared back with Mike McCray’s 14-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 20-15 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter, it didn’t take long for Cook’s 71-yard game-changer to give the Seminoles breathing room – at least for a bit.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher talked at length about what he would miss about Cook, which sounded like everything.
He mentioned Cook’s on-field play and “watching him in practice talk to the young guys.’’ He mentioned Cook’s “work ethic and demeanor and the way he’s changed these guys, the meetings we had. I would call and say, ‘Would you talk to so and so? We’ve got to get him to do right.’ Anything I ever ask him to do, and the effect he had on his teammates, is what I’m truly going to miss.’’
As the post-game press conference came to a close, someone asked Fisher if he expected Cook back next season.
“I don’t know that,’’ Fisher replied. “We’ll get the information and let him enjoy the Orange Bowl. “Our job is to get the proper information for him to make the proper choice and support him in anything he does, just like we’ll always do. He’ll never not be part of this family and we want the best for him.
“But I know one thing, if we get him, we’ll be the luckiest team in the world. Whoever drafts him will be the luckiest team in the world.
“Somebody is going to be happy.’’