Our writer Jackson Pugh breaks down 22nd-ranked Boston College as they come to Lane Stadium to take on a reeling Virginia Tech team looking to bounce back and avoid losing back-to-back games for only the second time under Justin Fuente.
1. The return of AJ Dillon
J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts aren't the only home run threats in Boston. Another one wears a gold helmet, a maroon jersey, and a big two on his chest.
Boston College sophomore AJ Dillon is one of the best tailbacks in the country. The six-foot, 240-pound bruiser from Connecticut ran for over 1500 yards in 2017. This season, Dillon has 801 yards and 7 touchdowns, while averaging a dazzling 5.8 yards per carry And if it weren't for some unfortunate circumstances, Dillon’s stats would be even more video game-like.
After injuring his ankle against Temple, Dillon had to miss the next two games. Him not being present against then-undefeated NC State proved to be costly, as the Golden Eagles were out-gained on the ground by 105 yards. BC fell 28-23 in Raleigh, which dropped them to 4-2 and pulled them out of the national spotlight.
However, after the emphatic return of Dillon against Miami, the Golden Eagles have life again. On his first carry back from injury, Dillon set the tone with a 25-yard dash between the tackles. He finished the game with 149 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ dominant win over the Hurricanes.
Dillon's size seems to be his best asset, as his bowling-ball build can be tough to tackle head on, but what makes Dillon unique is his elite speed and elusiveness, even with his big frame.
Dillon has the ability to stretch runs outside and outrun linebackers. Against Miami, Dillon was faced with a one-on-one situation with Miami LB Zach McCloud near the hash. Dillon easily beat 3-year starter to the boundary for a game sealing 14-yard touchdown. Dillon's longest run this season is 75 yards, so he has the ability to break one at any moment.
Bud Foster talked about the respect he has for Dillon in Tuesday's press conference.
“He’s just a big, physical guy that has great vision and great balance,” Foster said. "He breaks tackles, sets up his blocks extremely well, deceptive speed. I just think he’s a really, really talented football player, a very dangerous guy with the ball in his hands.” (VTScoop).
Last week, Virginia Tech struggled mightily against the run. The Hokies gave up 465 yards on the ground against Georgia Tech. With a running-back like Dillon rolling into town, the lunch pail defense will have to learn fast, or else it will be the same old story as the Thursday night thrashing.
2. The Defense is Opportunistic, As Always
From Don Brown to Paul Pasqualoni, Boston College always produces great defensive minds. This season, it’s no different with defensive coordinators Jim Reid and Anthony Campanile.
Boston College ranks first in the ACC in two key categories: sacks (28) and interceptions (13). They also rank 5th and tied for 4th in the country in those respective catergories.
The Golden Eagles boast a couple of terrific edge rushers. The first one is senior DE Zach Allen, who has 5.5 sacks this season and 12.5 total tackles for loss. The second is another senior, Wyatt Ray, who has 9 sacks and 10.5 total tackles for loss. Indeed, it’s safe to say the defensive line has picked up from where it left off after Harold Landry left for the draft.
Those ends combined with BC’s heavy use of delayed blitzes is a nightmare for opposing offenses.
While pressure creates diamonds, it can also create turnovers. Because opposing quarterbacks have been harassed by the Golden Eagles, BC has been able to generate a lot of interceptions.
However, Boston College’s blitzing defense is susceptible to short and intermediate passes. This means Virginia Tech’s running backs and tight ends should be ready to catch some passes. Last week, RB Travis Homer and TE Brevin Jordan were the leading receivers for Miami.
Otherwise, Virginia Tech will have to protect their quarterback better than they did last year against Boston College where former BC star DE Harold Landry had three sacks. Ryan Willis will also have to be ready to read blitz packages. If that doesn’t happen, then the wrong kind of maroon will be heavily present in the Hokie backfield.
3. Anthony Brown Gets a Second Chance
Boston College QB Anthony Brown was thrown to the wolves last season as the then-freshman from Cliffwood, NJ had his fair share of growing pains.
However, one of his worst performances that year came against the Hokies. Brown finished the game 13 of 30 for just 166 yards, leaving him a woeful quarterback rating of 18.6. The Golden Eagles unsurprisingly lost the game, 23-10.
Now, Brown has a shot at revenge, and now that he is well seasoned and experienced, Hokie fans may not want to take Brown lightly on Saturday.
Brown has improved immensely in almost every category. His 15-5 touchdown-interception ratio in 2018 is already better than his 11-9 ratio as a freshman. And while he has still struggled with accuracy in certain games, Brown’s completion percentage has increased by about six percentage points.
One of Brown’s greatest assets is his ability to roll out of the pocket and extend plays. Expect several patterns to crossing wide receivers and tight ends.
Bud Foster spoke of his respect for the high-level play of Brown this season.
“You’ve got the [Anthony] Brown kid, he reminds me of Josh Jackson in a lot of ways," said Foster. "He’s got a good arm, he’s accurate, he’s going to take care of the football, he makes good decisions, he’s coached very well. I think [Offensive Coordinator] Scot Loeffler in my time has been one of the outstanding quarterback coaches. Just teaching fundamentals and those types of things besides being a coordinator. I think he’s done an outstanding job and I think this is a really good football team." (VTScoop).
Last week, Virginia Tech’s secondary was not tested, as they only faced one pass from the Yellow Jackets. While Boston College relies more on the run, it will be interesting to see how the Tech secondary plays given that they haven’t faced a passing attack in three weeks.
4. Meat and Potatoes
As great as AJ Dillon is, there’s a reason why his stats have looked so Heisman-like. The men paving the way for Dillon have done their job.
With four returning starters and four seniors, Boston College boasts one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. The Golden Eagles also have a lot of size up front, which has been problematic for other front sevens.
Before the season, BC head coach Steve Addazio offered great praise to the big hogs up front.
“Barring any unforeseen real devastating injuries, we should have one of the better offensive lines in the ACC,” said Addazio. (Lindy's Sports).
So far, his theory has been right. Boston College ranks in the top 25 in rushing offense (226.4 ypg), top 50 in least sacks allowed (13 opponents sacks in 8 games), and 35th in total offense (445.6 ypg).
The anchor of the line is senior RT Chris Lindstrom. The Dudley, MA native was an All-ACC second team honoree last season. He is also the most experienced lineman as he has 44 career starts.
Sophomore Ben Pertrula is another force to be reckoned with. He was terrific as a freshman, and is not having any problems this season either. Last year, Petrula was an ESPN.com Freshman All-America selection at center after starting all 12 games. At 325 pounds, he is one of the Golden Eagle’s biggest offensive linemen. Petrula also has the ability to play either center, guard or tackle.
Aaron Monteiro and Chris Lindstrom also have a lot of experience, as both have started over 29 games in their career.
The depth of the BC offensive line will be a challenge for the Hokie defensive line, which is thin due to injuries and suspensions. This will be a great opportunity for Ricky Walker to showcase his skills for the pro scouts, who will have a close eye on this game.
5. Key Player: TE Tommy Sweeney
One of the biggest dark horse positions in college football is the tight end, as their immense height and athleticism can be a matchup nightmare for defensive backs.
Boston College TE Tommy Sweeney is one of the best receiving threats on the team, regardless of position. Sweeney, a 6-5, 260-pounder from Ramsey, NJ, lead the team in receptions last year with 36. He also had 26 receptions for 353 yards in 2016.
This year, Sweeney has not seen as many targets. However, his impact has led to a better passing game overall, as the Boston College receivers have been able to get open over the middle this season.
Also, Sweeney’s best asset is his blocking. The Draft Network’s Joe Marino thinks highly of Sweeney’s ability to push defensive ends down the field.
“Sweeney did lead BC in receiving last year but his best ability is blocking,” said Marino. "Whether it’s in-line, flexed or as a lead blocker into a gap, Sweeney finds success. Sweeney does well to fit his hands, stay square and work his body positioning to seal running lanes. Sweeney has a modest skill set but his ability to win in a versatile capacity as a blocker could lead to a chance as a No. 3 tight end in the NFL.” (TDN).
Looking ahead, Tommy Sweeney will be a guy that Virginia Tech has to keep an eye on in this game.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.