University of Miami

Hurricanes defense will face one of its toughest challenges. Here’s how it’s preparing

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz discusses challenge of defending Boston College Eagles

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz breaks down the Boston College Eagles offense, including running back AJ Dillon and BC's beefy offensive line.
Up Next
Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz breaks down the Boston College Eagles offense, including running back AJ Dillon and BC's beefy offensive line.

With almost two full weeks to prepare for the Boston College Eagles, the Miami Hurricanes defense had time for a deep dive on Boston College’s most dangerous offensive weapon.

The running back opened the season as an All-American contender after tearing through the Atlantic Coast Conference down the stretch of his freshman season in 2017.

Against the Louisville Cardinals, he broke off a season-best 75-yard run as part of his first 200-yard performance. After two relatively tame games, Dillon finished the year by running for at least 150 yards in each of his final four games, each one including at least a single 50-yard run.

Even in an injury-riddled campaign this year, Dillon ripped off a 74-yard run in a September blowout of the Crusaders Holy Cross and tore off another 52-yard run last time he played in another September win against the Temple Owls. Manny Diaz made sure to show his defense every one of those big plays.

“We actually showed them all of his long runs from a year ago,” the defensive coordinator said Monday after practice in Coral Gables, “just to get a sense because — again, a couple of the games we scouted against him, he is not in those breakdowns — so just to get a sense of who we are going against.

“Our guys are super excited to go against him.”

Miami (5-2, 2-1 ACC) began the week preparing as if Dillon was going to be in the lineup and now it seems clear the sophomore will be on the field Friday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Dillon returned to practice earlier this week and coach Steve Addazio said the tailback is “ready to roll” barring any unexpected setbacks. It means the Hurricanes defense may face their toughest individual challenge of the year at Alumni Stadium.

Before he left the Eagles’ win against Temple last month with a leg injury, Dillon had vaulted himself somewhat into the Heisman Trophy conversation and propelled Boston College (5-2, 2-1) to an early spot in the Associated Press Top 25.

Even after missing the past two games, Dillon sits at 652 yards and six touchdowns on 106 carries — good for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. The Eagles still rank 35th in the nation in total offense, making Boston College the most potent offense Miami has faced this year.

The basis of the Eagles offense, with or without Dillon, is pounding the ball. Boston College still ranks No. 21 in rushing offense — again, making the Eagles the top-ranked team the Hurricanes have faced — and features three other players averaging at least 4.9 yards on at least 14 carries.

“They do what they do very well,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said Monday at Greentree Practice Fields. “There are no disguises. They want to run the ball. The game is going to be fought in the trenches and it’s going to be fought there often, every play. We can’t get tired of playing the power or playing the stretch because they will run it back-to-back-to-back until we stop it.”

The Hurricanes defense is built to solve the problem Dillon presents. With midseason AP All-American Gerald Willis at defensive tackle and potential early-round NFL Draft pick Joe Jackson at defensive end, Miami boasts the No. 12 run defense in the country and leads the nation in tackles for a loss.

Boston College, however, trots out a talented offensive line itself, led by Chris Lindstrom, another potential early Draft choice, at right guard.

“There are some big boys up front,” Willis said Monday. “We haven’t faced an O-line like that, a physical O-line like that.”

But everything traces back to Dillon, who has only been held to less than 4.5 yards per carry in a single game once in the past year. The Purdue Boilermakers, who just stunned the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, also knocked off the Eagles when they were ranked early last month and held Dillon to only 59 yards on 19 carries in the process.

As the Hurricanes offense struggles with a quarterback carousel and a constantly growing list of injuries, the Miami defense may need to do what Purdue did. As always, the Hurricanes defense feels it can rise to the occasion.

“We don’t feel any pressure at all,” defensive back Sheldrick Redwine said Monday. “If we have a sudden change, like if the offense turns the ball over, the defense, we crowd around and all I see is smiles in the huddle. Coach Diaz is clapping. He’s happy because it’s another chance for us to go out there and prove why we’re the best.”

Sports Pass for $30 per year

Get unlimited access to all Miami Herald sports stories and videos for $30


Related stories from Miami Herald