It took Clemson less than a minute to find out what can happen when you make a mistake against Dalvin Cook during last year’s showdown with Florida State.
On the second play of the game, the All-American raced 75 yards for a touchdown to give the Seminoles a quick 7-0 lead.
“Someone didn’t get the call,” Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said this week. “We just saw what he can do if we don’t do our job. That’s how we’re going to have to approach this game. Everyone’s going to have to be on point.”
Cook finished with 194 yards in last year’s game at Death Valley and averaged more than 9 yards per carry, but Clemson held him out of the end zone the rest of the way as the Tigers won 23-13.
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Cook got off to a bit of a slow start in 2016, but has looked like the Heisman candidate most expected him to be the past few weeks.
The Miami native has rushed for more than 100 yards each of the past four games, including a 267-yard performance against USF. Cook is averaging 227.5 yards from scrimmage in the past four games.
“He’s special. He’s one of those guys where sometimes you play teams and you hold your breath every time he touches it, and that’s how he is,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
Swinney added Florida State uses Cook in a similar way that Clemson used C.J. Spiller. Spiller was a threat in the passing game in addition to the running game, and Cook has a career-high 356 receiving yards this season with a pair of 100-yard receiving games.
“He is a guy that when he touches it, he can make a big play at any time,” Swinney said. “He breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a strong runner, has great vision. He can find it. He can smell it. They run those stretch plays and those tosses and he gets everybody running and then he’ll stick a foot in the ground and he’s out the back door.”
The stretch play caused Clemson fits in its previous game against N.C. State. Wolfpack running back Matthew Dayes rushed for 106 yards against the Tigers and had a lot of success getting the defense flowing outside and then cutting back.
“We didn’t make the right fits and they exposed us,” Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “We didn’t see the stretch play a lot until that game and we didn’t fit it the right way. The running back Dayes was a really good back and he exposed us.”
With that said, Wilkins believes Clemson has fixed the mistakes it made against N.C. State and is up to the challenge of slowing down Cook.
“We learned a lot from that game,” Wilkins said. “We left some opportunities out there because he got a lot of yards where maybe we should have been able to shut him down. We learned from what we did in the last game and we’re going to use that to stop Dalvin.”
Two of the top four Heisman contenders will square off when Clemson plays FSU on Saturday. A look at the contenders:
Jackson had 431 yards, with three TD passes and a TD run against N.C. State. This week, expect another big game at Virginia. The Cavaliers are the third worst defense in the ACC.
The Seminoles defense has struggled mightily when facing big-time offenses, including Louisville and Jackson. This is a chance for Watson to make up some ground on Jackson.
The sophomore threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score in a rout of Oregon State. This week, he plays at No. 17 Utah, which leads the conference with 14 interceptions.
RB, Florida State
Two losses for Florida State have overshadowed the junior’s outstanding season running and receiving (179.4 yards per game). He gets the spotlight game against Clemson Saturday.