FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When he left Boston College for Michigan following the 2015 season, Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown probably figured he had seen the last of Dalvin Cook.
Brown, who has crafted one of the nation’s top defenses in his first year in Ann Arbor, Mich., will meet Cook and the Seminoles once again in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Friday.
And he knows exactly what to expect.
“Every time ‘4’ has his hands on the ball, I can’t breathe,” Brown said Wednesday. “I’m 61 years old and I just. …”
He then trailed off before making an exaggerated breathing motion.
And for good reason: Cook is as explosive as he is productive. The junior’s 1,620 rushing yards rank eighth in the nation and second among players from Power 5 conferences, and he is one of just 18 players in college football with multiple runs of 70-plus yards this season.
Brown, however, has had better luck than most when it comes to containing Cook. Cook carried 14 times for 76 yards against Brown’s Eagles as a freshman in 2014, and he tallied just 54 yards on 15 carries last year in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Both rank among the lowest outputs of his career as a starter.
But Brown also knows that likely won’t matter much when the Wolverines meet Cook on Friday.
“I would say if he’s not the best, he’s one of the top three players that we’ve played against, will have played against all year,” Brown said. “And I have great respect for his toughness, as well.”
Several of Michigan’s defenders echoed their coordinator’s praise.
“He’s got all the attributes, the vision, the quickness,” said senior linebacker Ben Gedeon, Michigan’s leading tackler. “The cuts he makes are elite.”
Chris Wormley, Michigan’s fifth-year senior defensive end, said that Cook is “probably the best running back in the country,” and, “if we don’t tackle him, it could be a long day for us.”
And Taco Charlton, Wormley’s defensive end counterpart and a potential first-round draft pick in a few months, said that Cook can “make a cut and turn a five-yard gain into a touchdown.”
Cook was nearly as effusive in his praise for the Wolverines.
Asked about Michigan’s No. 13-ranked rushing defense, Cook said the Wolverines’ experience – they start 10 seniors and one junior – means that they’re almost always in the right place at the right time.
“It’s going to be a difficult task for us,” Cook said. “(We expect) a lot of twisting, getting linebackers free, giving different looks, sending different blitzes off the edge, trying to keep us contained. We know the coordinator that we’re facing. He does a good job of scheming right.”
As usual, Cook drew a big crowd at his Wednesday-morning media session, where he fielded questions about the Wolverines, his latest visit to his hometown of Miami and his future plans for after the Orange Bowl.
Cook is eligible to declare for the 2017 NFL draft and is projected by several outlets as a high pick, but he said Wednesday that he has yet to make a decision.
In the meantime, Cook said he is focused on enjoying the Orange Bowl experience with his teammates, especially since he’s so close to home.
Cook’s high school, Miami Central, is about a 30-minute drive from Florida State’s hotel in Hollywood, Fla.
“It’s been great being home, being by the water, being by the beach,” Cook said. “We don’t get that in Tallahassee at all.”
Time will tell if the Orange Bowl is Cook’s last game in a Florida State uniform, but if history is any indicator, it will likely be a big one.
In two games at Hard Rock Stadium, incidentally the home of the Miami Hurricanes, Cook has totaled 319 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.
No surprise, then, that Cook expects to feel right at home come Friday.
“Being in that stadium in front of my family, I always get that extra boost to go play,” Cook said. “Being in front of my family, being in front of my friends, being in my hometown. There’s no better feeling than that.”