It’s time to get ‘the big boy pads out’

It’s time to get ‘the big boy pads out’

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It’s time to get ‘the big boy pads out’

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Clemson faces a tough running game in Boston College, running back A.J. Dillon

It is time for No. 2 Clemson to put its big boy pants on when it hosts Boston College Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Eagles, who are coming off an impressive 45-24 victory over NC State at home last Saturday, lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards (1,948) and rushing yards per game (278.3).

“It was more like for me going back to 1990,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They will do some shotgun, though, but they are under center, too. Just the physicality, it is right at you.”

Boston College (4-3, 2-2 ACC) ran right at the Wolfpack last week and rushed for 429 yards. NC State came into the game leading the ACC in rushing yards allowed per game at 66 yards. They had no answer for A.J. Dillon or backup David Bailey.

Dillon rushed for a season-high 223 yards and scored 3 touchdowns, while Bailey rushed for a career-high 181 yards and scored 2 touchdowns of his own. Dillon has rushed for 118 yards or more in each of the last five games and already has 968 yards and 9 touchdowns through the first seven games.

“He is just different. He is a very different guy,” Swinney said. “He is maybe more like (James) Conner than Dalvin (Cook). Dalvin is a different type of guy.”

Dillon is a big running back. The junior stands 6-foot and weighs 245 pounds. He is built more like a linebacker than today’s modern running backs. Clemson’s Travis Etienne, who is second in the conference at running the ball with 781 yards, is 5-foot-10, 210 pounds.

“He is going to go through you. Dalvin can go through you. He is powerful, but he will go around you and leave you,” Swinney said. “Dillon will just drag you. You might be on him, but he is dragging you. He is just a big, physical, old-school back. He is one of those guys you see in the NFL every week.”

Swinney says his linebackers and secondary will have to be ready for the physicality Dillion and Bailey both bring to the table.

“It is a challenge. It is a big challenge, especially for those back seven guys,” Swinney said. “For those guys that want to play on Sundays, this is what they are going to see every week in that league, backs like this.”

Clemson (7-0, 5-0 ACC) has done a good job containing Dillon in his first two seasons at Boston College. As a freshman he rushed for 1,589 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in 2017, but against Clemson he rushed for 57 yards and scored just one touchdown while averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.

In 2018, the Tigers limited Dillon to 39 yards and no touchdowns and 2.4 yards per carry, though he led the ACC with an average of 110.8 yards per game.

But the Tigers no longer have Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell or Austin Bryant along the defensive front. All four guys are now playing in the NFL.

“They are running the zone, they are running power, down-and-arounds, and they just keep doing it. It is hard,” Swinney said. “You have to fit everything right. You have to win some one-on-one tackles and they just have these big bruising backs. They just move the pile and they just keep coming and keep coming. Then it is play action. That is what we have had for years and years and years. You have to stop the run, so here comes the play action and the screens off of it, the boot, the throwbacks and all those things well coordinated teams have with that style of play.

“That is what they are built to do, and I think they have done a great job of using their personnel.”

In case you are wondering, Clemson is giving up 111.9 yards per game on the ground, including four straight games in which it has allowed 103 rushing yards or more. Louisville ran for 156 yards on the Tigers last week.

“You got to get those big boy pads out,” Swinney said.

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