Notebook: Dillon Continues Dominant Campaign in Florida State Win

Boston College football

Let’s run with a hypothetical scenario for a minute. Imagine your friend was in town Columbus Day weekend and the two of you went to the Saturday night football game against Virginia Tech. You made sure he stayed throughout the entirety of the 24-10 loss, soaking in the offensive struggles of a team that hadn’t scored more than 10 points in its first three Atlantic Coast Conference games in 2017.

Now imagine that, after he had tuned out Boston College football for the last three weeks, you FaceTimed him from the field on Friday night, with red bandana clad students pouring over the sideline railings and a 35-3 score line flashing on the screen behind the end zone. How do you explain what just happened? How do you convince him that BC has scored 35 points for the third-straight game—the first time they’ve done so since 2002—or that a team with three four- or five-star recruits just waxed a Florida State (2-5, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) team featuring 32 such players?

This new bizarro reality belongs to fans of Steve Addazio’s team after the Eagles (5-4, 3-3) embarrassed the Seminoles on Red Bandana night at Alumni Stadium. With a few exceptions, the complete domination of the team in all phases of the game—BC had 241 rushing yards, six tackles for loss, and recovered a muffed punt—took center stage, raising expectations for the Eagles across the board.

Three Up

1.) A.J. Dillon and the Offensive Line—For the fourth time this season—all BC victories—Dillon had at least 24 carries and ran for at least 89 yards. With 33 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown Friday night, the true freshman continued to stake his claim to the lead role in the Eagles’ backfield. Dillon displayed his signature aggression against FSU, refusing to go down—even when piled upon by multiple Seminole defenders—and turning even short runs into forceful adventures.

He showed good patience for a young back, reigning in his hard-charging nature long enough to set up his blockers and explode through available cutback lanes, with 20 carries for 120 yards midway through the third quarter before BC went almost exclusively to running plays to bleed the clock late in the game.

And speaking of the offensive line, on a second-down play five minutes into the game, Dillon broke off a 19-yard run on which he went untouched for the first 15 yards. A simple power run to the left of the center resulted in safety Derwin James being the first FSU player to touch the true freshman.

These kinds of openings have appeared far more frequently along the line over the last three weeks than they did over the early part of the season. After the game, Dillon humbly deflected much of the praise directed at him towards the big guys paving his way.

“The linemen are the ones that keep pushing, helping me get those extra yards,” he said. “So once again, it’s really all just a team, a team thing.”

2.) Linebackers Dominate—Entering Friday night, BC’s run defense had allowed 224 yards per game, 115th nationally. But after an improved performance last week against Virginia, the Eagles took a huge step forward this week, holding FSU to a paltry 64 rushing yards. They limited highly-touted freshman Cam Akers to just 42 yards on 18 carries, preventing the explosive youngster from getting outside. For a team that has struggled sealing the edge, especially against running quarterbacks, it was clear that containment was a huge priority for BC on Friday night.

“On film, we saw [Akers] constantly tries to get outside,” linebacker Ty Schwab said after the game. “We made [setting the edge] a huge emphasis this week in practice.”

The Eagles constantly strung out run plays and hit Akers in the backfield. After stopping opposing runners at or behind the line of scrimmage just 14.9 percent of the time this season—per Football Outsiders—BC did so on nine of FSU’s 29 carries on Friday. They also stuffed Akers for no gain on three second half runs on third or fourth down with one yard to gain.

Career nights from linebackers Schwab—12 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception—and John Lamot—10 tackles and a sack—elevated the defense’s play. Linebacking injuries had made slowing the run game very difficult in recent weeks, leaving the defensive line largely on its own. But if Friday’s performance can be used as an indicator, the BC run defense is back in action.

3.) Creative Formations—A large part of the offensive revival over the last few weeks has been due to creative use of formations to open spaces for skill players and the use of certain plays to set up a different result off of an identical look. On the first play of the game, Scott Loeffler dialed up a double reverse to Jeff Smith—eerily reminiscent of the double reverse called for Sherman Alston in the Red Bandana upset of USC in 2014.

On their next drive, at the FSU 34, Loeffler called a play that began the same way, with a double pitch to Smith running to the far sideline. But this time, one of the blocking receivers—Kobay White—leaked downfield toward the end zone, in perfect position to catch the finest throw of Smith’s career. Through identical formations and set ups, the Eagles got White wide open behind a defense largely convinced that Smith was going to run with the ball.

Additionally, Loeffler used spread formations—with five receivers—much more often than earlier in the season. Throws to tight end Tommy Sweeney down the seam and slants to the outside receivers suddenly became much more open, with FSU’s secondary stretched too far horizontally to provide help to each other.

Three Down

1.) Drops—Although this may sound like nitpicking since the team scored 35 points, the Eagles missed numerous opportunities to either put more points on the board or continue promising drives due to dropped passes. On the opening drive, Anthony Brown zipped a 3rd down throw down the seam to Sweeney, perfectly placing the ball around the two high safeties. Unfortunately, the big tight end couldn’t haul in the pass in the end zone, leaving the Eagles without points on the drive.

Jeff Smith also had a key drop on a deep corner route with BC on its own 10-yard line midway through the first, costing the team at least 25 yards on a drive that eventually ended in a punt.

2.) Passing Game Rhythm—Despite the team’s 35 points, the passing offense didn’t look nearly as smooth as it did in Charlottesville last week. Brown completed just six of his 20 pass attempts for 54 yards. Though he was certainly plagued by a few big drops, he also seemed slightly out of sync with his receivers at points during the night, narrowly missing Sweeney several times.

FSU certainly has an experienced secondary and Brown is going to go through growing pains as a freshman starting quarterback, but for BC to continue its win streak against NC State in two weeks, he will need to move the ball a bit more consistently through the air.

3.) Field Goal Woes—After Sweeney’s end zone drop on the opening series, Addazio sent Colton Lichtenberg out to try a 49-yard field goal on 4th-and-11. In a play reminiscent of a 50-yard miss against Central Michigan, Lichtenberg ripped the kick very far left.

The junior is now 10-for-16 on the season, having missed his last five kicks of at least 40 yards. For the moment, when the team faces a fourth down between the opponent’s 25 and 30 yard lines, it will likely have to leave the offense out on the field, regardless of the distance, until Lichtenberg rediscovers his kicking touch.

Featured Image by Shaan Bijwadia / Heights Staff