There’s no much of a mystery what makes the Seminoles go on offense. Running back Dalvin Cook has 185 carries for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, adding 19 receptions out of the backfield. The sophomore averages 222.2 rushing and receiving yards against FBS teams, the best mark in the country by 47 yards over Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. He has three games of 200+ total yards this season.
It’s not the first major test the Florida rushing defense has faced. The Gators faced LSU running back Leonard Fournette in Baton Rouge earlier this season, and they struggled to limit him. Fournette went for 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Cook is a different back. He doesn’t have the size that Fournette does, but he brings an explosive burst and can score regardless of where the Seminoles are on the field.
“He’s a complete back,” Florida safety Keanu Neal said. “He can run, he can get away from you, he has top-end speed and he’ll lay the pound on you. We’ve just got to contain him, play within ourselves. Anybody we go against, if we play the way that we should play, we’ll dominate him.”
The struggles against Fournette are still on the mind of the Florida defense. They remember watching Fournette continue to move the chains and carry the LSU offense. The Tigers took over the game with a big second quarter through the air, but Fournette continued to chip away at the Florida defense and extend drives.
The Florida coaches and players said after the game that they put too much of an emphasis on Fournette. It forced some of the defensive players to get out of position while selling out to the running back, and they got hit for big plays in the passing game. The heavy emphasis also caused the defensive line and linebackers to play undisciplined, always trying to come up with the big hit on Fournette. That can’t happen on Saturday against Cook.
"The guy can do a whole lot,” Florida running back Kelvin Taylor said. “He's got great vision. He's a one-cut, downhill back and he can catch the ball out the backfield. He's a very powerful runner, and he's very fast. He's a good back. It's going to be fun just going against him and just having a good time out there."
The matchup has an extra twist with Cook’s verbal commitment to Florida during the recruiting process. The Gators signed multiple players from south Florida during Cook’s class, but the former five-star running back switched his commitment from the Gators to Florida State at the Under Armour All-American Game.
Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson was close to it. He was working to keep Cook and Ermon Lane in the Gators’ recruiting class, but Cook first flipped to the Seminoles and Lane followed after that. Wilson still talks to Cook and Lane sometimes, but that has been on hold until Saturday.
“Leading up to it, we’re not on speaking terms right now,” Wilson said. “They used to be Gators, so that just makes the rivalry even more.”
Cook comes into Saturday’s game leading all Power 5 running backs with 18 rushes of 20+ yards. He’ll be the focal point for a Florida defense desperate to make a statement after failing their first chance against a top-tier running back earlier this season.
“The game speaks for itself,” Neal said. “Florida-Florida State, best in the state, who’s going to take it? We’re in The Swamp. We don’t lose in The Swamp. Let’s get it.”