ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s defense already has outlined its biggest challenge in the Orange Bowl: Stopping the run.
This should be second nature for the Wolverines, right? They have one of the nation’s top defenses, and have allowed opposing rushers more than 100 yards only three times this season.
When No. 6 Michigan (10-2) faces No. 11 Florida State (9-3) in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., the Wolverines will face something they haven’t seen much of this season, a potent, consistent, productive running back.
Florida State junior Dalvin Cook is a unanimous All-American who is eighth in the nation in rushing yardage (1,620 yards on 268 carries, 135 yards a game) and led the Seminoles with 18 touchdowns.
“He’s really fast, and he’s really physical,” Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas said. “He’s got a lot of long runs on his resume, so we’ve got to stop those long runs and make sure he stays in between the tackles. One thing he likes to do is run behind the tackles and he likes to bounce off, so we have to make sure we stay in our gaps and contain him and rally to the ball.”
Michigan enters the Orange Bowl with the nation’s No. 2 defense (252.7 yards), and has allowed 116.75 yards a game rushing. Michigan has allowed only three players to rush for more than 100 yards this season, including two running backs, Michigan State’s LJ Scott and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett was the third.
Most productive rushers from each of Michigan’s 12 opponents
|Michigan State||LJ Scott||22 carries for 139 yards, TD|
|Ohio State||J.T. Barrett||30 carries for 125 yards, TD|
|Iowa||Akrum Wadley||23 carries for 115 yards|
|UCF||Adrian Killins||1 carry for 87 yards, TD|
|Wisconsin||Corey Clement||17 carries for 68 yards|
|Penn State||Saquan Barkley||15 carries for 59 yards|
|Maryland||Lorenzo Harrison||9 carries for 58 yards|
|Colorado||Phillip Lindsay||12 carries for 51 yards|
|Indiana||Devine Redding||22 carries for 50 yards|
|Hawaii||Dru Brown||5 carries for 49 yards|
|Illinois||Kendrick Foster||8 carries for 45 yards|
|Rutgers||Trey Sneed||8 carries for 27 yards|
Michigan, however, can’t think of many running backs they’ve faced who can compare to Cook.
Defensive lineman Maurice Hurst likened Cook to Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel, on the basis of Samuel’s speed. Thomas compared cook to Penn State RB Saquon Barkley.
“The best back we went against was from Penn State,” Thomas said of Barkley. “That man is a different breed. He’s a great player, he runs fast, he runs hard, he’s physical, and I expect to see him in the NFL draft pretty soon. That’s the best back we’ll ever go against.”
Michigan has only seen Cook on film or on television. Several of Michigan’s players said junior RB Joe Hewlett has replicated Cook’s speed and shiftiness on Michigan’s scout team, but Cook also brings a penchant for breaking big plays. He averages 6.04 yards a carry.
“The biggest thing is eliminating big plays,” Hurst said. “That’s what we tried to do with Saquon (Barkley) and those type of players, who can make those huge plays. That’s the biggest part, trying to eliminate all those big plays he can make. That’s really where their offense gets a boost.”
Florida State has several offensive options, including WR Travis Rudolph (53 catches for 807 yards, seven touchdowns) and QB Deondre Francois, a redshirt freshman who has thrown for 3,128 yards and 18 touchdowns, and has been intercepted six times.
Thomas, however, considers Cook to be Florida State’s top offensive threat.
“He’s their playmaker,” Thomas said. “He’s an impact player. You can’t let him get in space. I can’t wait to play against him. It’s going to be something exciting. It’s going to be a good test for our defense. It’s going to be fun. Their quarterback has a really good arm, but I think Cook is their go-to guy.”