The younger brother of Minnesota Vikings ball-carrier Dalvin Cook, James, a four-year impact ball-carrier for the Georgia offense, is looking to carve his own path outside of the shadows of his elder sibling. The potential key to punching the Bulldogs’ ticket to a College Football Playoff National Championship berth as questions continue to surround Kirby Smart’s looming decision at quarterback, Cook’s ability to maintain his long-tenured success will remain parallel with the Georgia offensive unit’s ability to put points on the board as a security blanket to its historically dominant defensive group.
One of the upcoming draft’s most underappreciated backfield talents, Cook, alongside Zamir White, will be looked upon to carry the offensive workload. A two-headed monster in which White serves as the de facto bellcow for Smart’s offense, Cook is the lightning to White’s thunder, averaging more than six yards a carry with seven touchdowns. A versatile prospect whose game is reminiscent of his brother’s due to his outstanding contact balance and burst through crowded creases, where Cook will make his money against Michigan, and at the next level, will be in the passing game, where his 21 receptions rank fifth among all Georgia pass-catchers.
In Georgia’s second straight game against an AP top-three program after having their doors blown off by Alabama in the SEC title game, the presence of Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Daxton Hill, and the Jim Harbaugh-led Wolverines defense has shifted the needle toward Cook as the guiding light to glory with uncertainty surrounding Georgia quarterbacks Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels. While Smart’s offense has enjoyed its fair share of success this season on the shoulder of its senior leader in Bennett, his lack of, well, anything, against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in the conference championship has caused Smart, and ‘Dawgs faithful, to throw caution at the wind on who should suit up under center come New Year’s Eve in Miami.
While Georgia has proven it can sling the rock with the best the country has to offer with outside threats in freshman tight end Brock Bowers, wideout George Pickens—who continues to improve his health—and Ladd McConkey, asking Bennett, or Daniels, to sit back and toss the pigskin 35 times around Hard Rock Stadium would be a misuse of assets. With the aforementioned names within Michigan’s star-studded defense, allowing the presences of Hutchinson and Ojabo to pin their ears back to wreak havoc in the backfield is a nightmare scenario for Smart and either of the two quarterbacks he chooses to roll out.
This brings us back to Cook.
Everything for Georgia will stem from its overall ability to run the football, and run it with success. Georgia has the nation’s 30th-ranked rushing offense, averaging nearly 195 yards per game. Despite Michigan allowing just 122.0 YPG on the ground (22nd in CFB), the punch up front against the Wolverines’ stout front seven will have to remain consistent if the Bulldogs look to remain competitive.
And although Smart’s defense is an entirely different story as Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum, and the Michigan offense will have their hands full as well, the last time I checked, the most points scored wins. With Cook representing a shoulder to lean on as a veteran back with a litany of high-profile games under his belt, his legs hold the key to a potential rematch with the Tide.
An uber-versatile prospect whose impact has slid under the rug due to the spotlight placed on the Georgia defense, it won’t take long for Cook to assert himself against the Wolverines. A unit struggling to find its identity under center, the Bulldogs’ offense will hinge on Cook’s impact under a national spotlight that could drastically boost his draft stock moving into the spring.