The No. 6 Michigan football team has faced some talented running backs this year, but Maurice Hurst struggled to think of any quite like Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.
“No, I don’t think (he’s comparable),” said the redshirt junior defensive tackle Wednesday. “His combination of speed — I mean, similar on film to (Curtis) Samuel from Ohio State as far as speed and being someone that you have to know where he’s at on the field because he can make such a huge difference in the game. I’d say that’d be his biggest similarity for us playing so far, but no, there’s not really anyone.”
The Wolverines’ second-ranked defense will have its shot at Cook — the first top-10 rusher they’ve seen all season — at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Dec. 30. The junior and Miami native has rushed for 1620 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016, leading the Seminoles to a 9-3 season.
It will be the biggest test of the season for Michigan’s run defense, which has already had to deal with Samuel and teammate Mike Weber, Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, Michigan State’s LJ Scott and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley in the regular season.
Despite falling to Ohio State in double overtime, the Wolverines were able to hold Weber, the Buckeyes’ leading running back, to just 26 yards. It was the worst game of Weber’s season, as he averaged just 2.4 yards per run.
That game came four weeks after Michigan learned its lesson on stopping the run from facing Scott in East Lansing. Scott willed the Spartans to life with 139 rushing yards and 47 receiving yards, almost single-handedly keeping Michigan State in the game with a few big plays.
Cook has just as much, if not more, big-play potential than Scott, which Michigan can attest to after watching him on film.
“I mean, (Cook) is just fast,” Hurst said. “If he gets outside and on the edge — I mean, we were watching their game against Clemson, and there were five plays where he probably had 120 yards. It was just five straight plays, and they were just all big hits. And that’s the biggest part, just stopping those big runs and stopping those big plays from happening.”
Those big plays can come out of the backfield as well — Cook has 426 receiving yards and is averaging 14.2 yards per reception.
Stopping receiving backs is another lesson the Wolverines learned the hard way. Iowa running back Akrum Wadley opened up the game for the Hawkeyes as a receiving threat, catching five passes for 52 yards against the Wolverines. He caught a 3-yard touchdown pass that helped Iowa to a 14-13 win over then-undefeated Michigan.
With a talented secondary, though, the Wolverines aren’t too worried. According to senior cornerback Channing Stribling, if they can neutralize Cook’s ground game, the rest will take care of itself.
“First we’ve got to stop the running, though,” he said. “Cook is a great running back. So that’s our game plan right now, to stop the run. After that, once we’re able to do that, we can play ball from there. Once they start throwing, we just have to match up, do our thing and still give pressure.”
The Wolverines may not have seen anything like Cook before, but they’ve seen the type of threat he poses during their own regular-season struggles. On Dec. 30, they’ll find out if they really learned their lessons.