AJ Dillon returns, sparks BC’s win over Miami
The wheels in Boston College coach Steve Addazio’s head start turning at the beginning of the season. But every week, he tests some of his wildest ideas just to see if there’s even the slightest chance his team might be able to pull one off on game day.
He keeps a bag of trick plays, adding to it as the season goes along, waiting for the right time to pull one out of his back pocket.
“We just keep a Rolodex of them going, so it’s not just something we’re going to go to the week of the game,” he said. “It’s just something that we work on each week because those are the kind of things to me, if you don’t start the process early with those, you never get the execution. The kids aren’t confident with everything off of them.”
When players get a look at what the coaching staff’s cooked up, their eyes light up at the possibilities.
“We trust in our coaches’ mindset into calling certain plays and putting certain plays in, and we get excited honestly when you see some of these trick plays that we put in,” said quarterback Anthony Brown said. “Just to hear some of the ideas, they’re very interesting, and it’s fun to get them executed honestly.”
While Miami coach Mark Richt spent the bye week wondering whether his defense would have to deal with AJ Dillon, BC’s sledgehammer out of the backfield, Addazio spent his bye week in the lab scheming up ways to keep the Hurricanes guessing.
In a 27-14 victory Friday night that was by far BC’s best of the season, Dillon gave Miami’s defense fits, rushing for 149 yards on 32 carries as if he hadn’t missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
But Addazio used some imaginative play-calling to baffle a Hurricanes defense that came in ranked No. 2 in the country.
Dillon set the tone from the first play from scrimmage, bursting through the hole a mile wide on the left side and ripping off a 25-yard carry. The only thing that stopped him from taking his first carry in nearly a month to the house was an open-field tackle by safety Sheldrick Redwine.
“It definitely was a confidence-booster,” Dillon said. “I should have just trusted my speed. I was thinking about the ankle on the first run. So it was definitely a great confidence-booster.”
That’s when the fun started.
Addazio went into his trick bag, and the Eagles put together a 10-play, 88-yard scoring march.
The drive was sparked by a play Miami never saw coming, even though it should’ve sniffed it out the second it saw an empty backfield and four receivers bunched up on the left side.
Brown threw a quick swing pass to Jeff Smith, but instead of turning upfield, Smith — a converted quarterback — cocked the football back and started scanning for options downfield.
With time to throw, Smith found Brown.
There isn’t a trace of evidence on any film anywhere that would suggest Brown could catch a football. But Smith knew.
“Anthony always jokes with us about how he could go play receiver now,” Smith said. “So I’m not surprised at all.”
Smith delivered a cross-field pass to Brown who had enough blocking in front of him to race for a 27-yard gain that put the Eagles at the Miami 12.
Three plays later, Brown connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Smith to put BC up, 7-0. It was the Eagles’ sixth opening-drive touchdown of the season.
It took the Hurricanes all of 2 minutes 54 seconds to get the points back. After driving to the BC 8-yard line, a false start penalty put Miami in a third-and-7 situation, but it still managed to get points out of it.
Quarterback Malik Rosier floated one up for Darrell Langham in the back left corner of the end zone. Langham climbed the ladder on Hamp Cheevers, high-pointed the football, got his right foot down in bounds as Cheevers tried to rip the ball loose and maintained control for his second touchdown catch of the season, tying the game at 7.
On the ensuing drive, Addazio took a gamble that the Hurricanes might be gullible enough to fall for the same trick twice. They were.
He called another option play for Smith, who delivered another deep ball, this time a 31-yard hookup with Travis Levy that took the Eagles to the Miami 19.
Five plays later, Brown kept it for himself and scampered 5 yards untouched to the end zone for his first rushing touchdown of the season, giving the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
“We were very, very confident in that series of those trick plays, felt great about them,” Addazio said. “We left one in the drawer, but we’ll save it.”
The Eagles had a chance to stretch the lead on the opening drive of the second quarter, going 79 yards to the Miami 3, but couldn’t punch it in on two tries. They settled for a Colton Lichtenberg field goal that made it 17-7.
The Hurricanes answered quickly, getting a 10-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to DeeJay Dallas that made it 17-14.
But the Eagles defense swung the game in the third quarter, pulling the plug on Miami’s first two drives with a pair of picks.
First, Cheevers hawked a pass from Rosier at the Miami 37 and ran it back 23 yards to the Miami 14 to set up a field goal that stretched the lead to 20-14. The pick gave Cheevers five for the season, tying him for the most in the country.
Then, with the ’Canes backed up at their 10, Taj-Amir Torres jumped a slant route to pick off Rosier again, returning it to the Miami 14. A play later Dillon found the end zone with ease to push the lead to 27-14.
A crucial goalline stand to start the fourth quarter all but sucked the life out of the ’Canes as the Eagles defense got to flex its muscles.
“I definitely think so,” said defensive end Zach Allen. “You want to prove to everyone especially on a nationally televised game that you’re the top dog and you’ve arrived, and I think we did that.”
The Eagles sent Miami to its second straight loss, dropping it to 5-3. Meanwhile, the Eagles remained undefeated at home (5-0).
For the first time since 2007, the Eagles started the season 6-2. The last time they had six wins before November was 2009. With the win, the Eagles secured bowl eligibility for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
“Today was definitely a great step forward,” Dillon said. “But no one on this team’s satisfied with just six wins. We don’t want six wins. It’s great to be sitting where we are, but we’re looking on to Virginia Tech tomorrow, and we’re going to get that seventh win.”
And after letting some of his tricks loose on the ’Canes, Addazio said he definitely has more up his sleeve.
“We’ll have to add to that now,” he said.