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All eyes on AJ: Virginia Tech preparing for Boston College’s talented back

All eyes on AJ: Virginia Tech preparing for Boston College’s talented back

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BLACKSBURG - Virginia Tech is expecting a heavy dose of A.J. Dillon on Saturday.

Boston College’s star back is coming off one of his best games of the season going for 149 rushing yards and a touchdown against a strong Miami run defense. Dillon carried the ball 32 times after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury.

It was only the second time this season he carried the ball more than 30 times, but it probably won’t be the last.

“I wouldn't dial that back,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “I think we're going to -- he's a great player, and we're going to feed him the ball. That's the way it's going to go. I mean, if the number is 30, it's 30. If it's 40, it's 40.”

Dillon was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award on Monday. The award is given annually to the collegiate player of the year. Dillon is fourth in the nation with 133.5 rushing yards per game. He has 11 100-yard rushing games in 19 career games.

“I thought what he did Saturday was remarkable considering he is come off that injury,” Addazio said. “He had a very significant injury, and for him to come in like that and carry and -- those are physical 30 carries. Those were physical. I thought he did a fantastic job with it, and he came out of that game feeling really good.”

Dillon didn’t hit his stride last year until after facing Virginia Tech. After carrying the ball 10 times for 25 yards against the Hokies in a 23-10 loss last October, he ran for 1,256 yards over his team's final seven games of the season. 

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster compares Dillon favorable to former Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was a unanimous All-American.

“He’s just a big, physical guy that has great vision, great balance, breaks tackles,” Foster said. “Just sets up his blocks extremely well. Deceptive speed. I just think he’s a really, really talented football player and a dangerous guy obviously with the ball in his hands. He’s just a really good football player.”

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is impressed with the way Boston College’s coaching staff has built the offense around Dillon’s strengths.

“They do a great job getting him the football and then having numerous plays off of that in terms of their nakeds and play-actions and boot plays and trick plays,” Fuente said. “He's a lot quicker than you want him to be at that size when you watch him play and you watch him make movements in small spaces. He's a very talented player.”

Virginia Tech’s defenders has a lot to prove considering the way they have played against the run in recent weeks. The Hokies gave up an average of 289 yards on the ground the last three games with teams averaging well over five yards per carry. Georgia Tech’s 465 yards was more than the defense allowed up the first four weeks of the season combined [336 yards].

The Hokies could also be missing some key pieces on the defensive side of the ball. Starting whip linebacker Khalil Ladler will miss the first half serving a suspension for targeting while starting defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt and starting linebacker Dylan Rivers are dealing with ankle injuries.

“I’ve been talking with Ricky [Walker], just talking about taking our game to a different level,” Virginia Tech defensive end Houshun Gaines said. “Our team needs it. I feel like across the board as long as we focus on getting better and everybody is just doing their job, I believe we’ll be fine.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook.

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