James Cook’s athletic skills expand his role in Georgia offense

Georgia running back James Cook (4) during the Bulldogs' game with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Photo by Skylar Lien)

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Georgia running back James Cook (4) during the Bulldogs' game with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Photo by Skylar Lien)

When Georgia junior running back James Cook finds himself in a one-on-one matchup with a defender, he doesn’t question his ability to win.

Cook is noted for his athletic ability, and he’s drawn to the challenge of putting it on display as a receiving option. Against No. 2 Alabama on Oct. 17, his athletic ability and competitiveness earned him the Bulldogs' longest play from scrimmage so far this season — an 82-yard touchdown catch.

On that play, Cook went in motion out of the backfield before the snap. Alabama linebacker Christian Harris followed Cook over, setting up a one-on-one matchup for Cook. All it took was Cook faking to the inside for a split-second for Harris to bite, leaving Cook space to get separation down the sideline.

Harris sprawled out as he saw the ball coming over his head, but Cook had all the room he needed. After catching the ball around the 50-yard line, Cook had nothing but open field in front of him for the touchdown.

“It’s just all about winning,” Cook said Wednesday. “If I can beat the man across from me, I have the all the confidence in the world. I know I’m athletic and have versatility, and I know I can beat him, so I just do it.”

Under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Cook’s role in the passing game has grown exponentially. Last season, Cook caught 16 passes for 132 yards across 14 games. Through four games this season, Cook already has 14 catches, 173 yards and a receiving touchdown.

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Cook isn’t contributing only in the passing game; he also is Georgia’s third-leading rusher and averages just over 30 rushing yards per game. But his longest run is only 17 yards, compared with his two longest receptions of 82 and 46 yards. As the Bulldogs look to create more explosive plays on offense, Cook’s penchant for explosive passing plays is on display.

“(My success comes from) me being in the positions with one-on-one matchups,” Cook said. “We’re just taking advantage of the one-on-ones and winning them. ... It’s just me being versatile and doing whatever and doing it all.”

Last week against Kentucky, wide receiver George Pickens was unavailable because of an upper-body injury, so Cook stepped into the secondary receiver role. He finished the game as the Bulldogs' leading receiver for the second consecutive game with 62 total yards, including a long of 46.

With a matchup against No. 8 Florida at TIAA Bank Stadium looming in Jacksonville on Saturday, the No. 5 Bulldogs likely will need to score more than the 14 points they scored Saturday against Kentucky to come away with a win. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is hopeful that Pickens will be able to play, but if he isn’t, Cook will be ready to contribute in a receiving role, just as he’s done throughout the season.

“(I’m) just playing my role and doing what I’ve gotta do to help the team win,” Cook said. “If that’s catching the ball, I’m gonna catch the ball to the best of my ability. If that’s running the ball, I’m gonna run the ball to my best ability to get a win and make explosive plays for my team to win.”

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