College Football

Boston College knowledge: AJ Dillon is the man

True freshman running back proved himself and took advantage of the carries

NEW YORK — Sometimes, coaches are cautious with true freshmen, especially at the skill positions. There’s so much to worry about from being physically ready to do this to knowledge of the offense.

The day AJ Dillon stepped on to the Boston College campus, the coaches could plainly see the physical thing wasn’t going to be a problem. Dillon is 6-2, 240 pounds and ...

“He’s a big back with speed,” Boston College offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “A lot of these big backs today don’t have the type of speed A.J. has. He’s got great vision, very natural. . ...

“He’s an extremely talented running back. You can’t coach 6-2, 240 pounds that runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash), he’s a very impressive God-gifted man.”

Because Dillon is a true freshman, he didn’t fully take over BC’s running back spot until around week 8. It’s “around week 8,” because in week 7, Dillon rushed 39 times for 272 yards against Louisville. That was the best FBS rushing total in a game for a freshman in 2017.

“He had to learn how to play the running back position at the college level,” Loeffler said. “His talents are off the chart.”

Going into Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl matchup against the Hawkeyes (7-5), Dillon has 1,432 yards and 13 TDs on 268 carries.

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“He’s a fast dude and a big guy, too,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “He’s a good back. He’s a combination of a bunch of different guys. Might be the biggest guy we’ve seen, but he also can move around. We’ll have to be ready in all phases against him.”

— The Eagles (7-5) lost freshman quarterback Anthony Brown to a torn ACL on Nov. 13. Brown plays a balanced game, so defenses couldn’t tee off on one element. Senior Darius Wade took over and won both starts (39-16 over UConn and 42-14 over Syracuse). He passed for 55 yards against UConn and then lit up Syracuse for 248 yards. If he’s a runner, he hasn’t shown it this season, with just six rushes in his two starts for minus-3 yards.

“The young quarterback getting hurt late was definitely a very, very hard blow to our football team,” Loeffler said. “Darius has done a great job. He was remarkable the UConn game and did a good job against Syracuse.”

Wade has completed 46 of 75 for 528 yards, two TDs and an interception.

— BC center Ben Petrula (6-5, 300) earned a spot alongside Dillon on ESPN.com’s freshman all-America team.

Petrula started the final 11 games of the season at center after a season-ending knee injury to starter Jon Baker. Petrula moved to center from tackle.

He’d never played the position on any level.

“We lose our starting center in the first game of the year,” Loeffler said. “Our backup center was hurt during training camp. We had to move a tackle over to play the position. He’d never played it and also was a true freshman. What Ben has done is remarkable. We think he’s going to be a great player. He’s helped us get to this bowl game in my opinion.”

— As far as BC’s scouting report on Iowa’s defense, of course, cornerback Josh Jackson has he BC staff’s attention.

“Josh Jackson is excellent,” Loeffler said. “I think he’s a very, very good football player and every award he’s received has been well deserved.

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“Obviously, when you’re playing this type of player, you want to avoid him at all costs. That’s not football.”

— One of the themes from BC this week is that Iowa’s secondary looks basic in what it does, but if you look closely, there’s more going on there.

“They appear to be vanilla on the back end, but that’s not the case whatsoever,” Loeffler said. “They do a great job of route reading. They have major adjustments on patterns. They teach their kids what’s coming in terms of how to defend what the offense is going to give them.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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