No. 13 Florida focused on slowing down FSU's Dalvin Cook
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida defensive end Jordan Sherit calls Florida State's Dalvin Cook ''the best back we'll face.''
Better than Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, Rawleigh Williams and every other running back who has lined up against the 13th-ranked Gators this season.
So it's no surprise that containing Cook is Florida's top priority when it travels to Tallahassee to play the No. 15 Seminoles (8-3) on Saturday night. Few have done it, not even the Gators (8-2).
''What we have to do is not let him do what he likes to do, and that's hit the edge and get going,'' Sherit said. ''He does have tremendous speed, so we've got to limit the perimeter and stuff like that and just wrap up and tackle.''
Sounds simple. Seems unlikely.
A junior from Miami, Cook has 1,467 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns this season. He has topped the 100-yard mark seven times in his last eight games and has torched the Gators the last two years.
He ran 24 times for 144 yards against Florida as a freshman in 2014. He carried 26 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns last year in Gainesville.
''The guy can run behind his pads the way he's built and yet he can give you that side-to-side jump cut and get to top speed so quickly,'' Gators coach Jim McElwain said. ''You can't blink. You got to keep your head up and you got to wrap this guy up. We got to get people around the ball because he's going to make some guys miss and that's what makes him so special.''
The Gators have had mixed results against the run this season. They shut down Georgia's Chubb (9 carries, 20 yards) and LSU's Fournette (12-40), and limited LSU's Guice to 83 yards on 19 carries.
But they also struggled to contain Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb, Missouri's Damarea Crockett and Arkansas' Williams. Three of Florida's last three opponents – Missouri, Arkansas and LSU – topped 200 yards rushing.
Now, it could be Cook's turn.
''He can move a little better,'' Gators linebacker Kylan Johnson said. ''He is a good, balanced back. … I'm up for the challenge. We are all up for a challenge. So we will be ready.''
Johnson is one of several Florida players thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries. The Gators will be without their top three tacklers – linebacker Jarrad Davis, linebacker Alex Anzalone and safety Marcus Maye – for the second straight week. Safety Nick Washington (ankle) will join them on the sideline Saturday.
So Johnson, fellow linebackers David Reese and Vosean Joseph, safety Marcell Harris and now safety Chauncey Gardner will be charged with helping slow down Cook.
But it really starts up front, where defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and defensive end CeCe Jefferson have emerged as guys who can penetrate the backfield on every play and have to be accounted for before every snap.
The same could be said for Cook, who bounced back from a slow first three games of the season and was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.
''It just shows you always don't get the start you want,'' Cook said. ''There were plays to be made. It's all about how you finish. I think we are doing a good job of finishing the season well, finish strong. That is going to be the key to everything.''
Last week at Syracuse, Cook ran for 225 yards and a school-record-tying four touchdowns. He also broke Warrick Dunn's 20-year-old school record for career rushing yards. Cook now tops the list with 4,166 and counting.
With two games remaining, he could break his own single-season school records for rushing yards (1,691) and all-purpose yards (1,935).
Another big game against Florida would go a long way toward making it happen. The Gators are wary, especially since Cook has more 40-yard plays (eight) this season than Florida does as a team (seven).
''This guy is fun to watch,'' McElwain said. ''I wish at times when you're watching it that you weren't preparing to play it, that you were just watching it for the pure joy of watching a good player. I just think this guy's as good as there is in the country. … The sheer numbers don't lie. You talk about explosive, it's a real deal.''
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