CLEMSON — Steve Addazio said earlier this week he wasn't sure if star running back AJ Dillon would be healthy enough to play against Clemson on Saturday, but the Boston College coach was hopeful. That means Clemson has no choice but to be ready to face the ACC's preseason player of the year.
Dillon has been dealing with a lingering ankle injury that kept him out of two of Boston College's nine games, and he re-aggravated it last week in the Eagles' victory at Virginia Tech.
Adazzio said Dillon was "bouncing around" despite being "dinged up" and indicated it now becomes a matter of how much pain the sophomore can handle.
If Dillon is up to it, Adazzio plans to use him as much as possible Saturday. He's been averaging 23 carries per game.
"God willing, he will be healthy and we get can get 30 carries out of him," Adazzio said.
And that's where Clemson has cause for concern.
Clemson might have the most talented defensive line in the country with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant. But there is only one other place this season the Tigers have seen the caliber of running back they will see Saturday, and that has been on their own practice field.
Travis Etienne, Clemson's dynamic running back who has torched most of the teams he's faced, does his part in practice preparing the Tigers' defense. Etienne ranks 13th nationally in rushing yards per game with just under 111.
Dillon is No. 4 in the nation with 128 yards per game. The powerful runner also weighs 45 pounds more than Etienne.
For weeks, it has been Clemson reaping the benefits of having a running back no one seems to be able to stop. On Saturday, the Tigers hope to avoid getting a taste of their own medicine.
"He has got great instincts and great physicality. He runs well behind his pads and he runs through a lot of trash," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "They force your secondary to tackle him by scheme, so a big guy versus a little guy creates a big advantage."
Venables compared it to a 200-pound linebacker going head-to-head with a 300-pound tackle.
"You know how that's going to go most of the time. It's not going to be good," he said.
Dillon has played in seven games and rushed for nearly 900 yards with eight touchdowns. Unlike Etienne, he is more of a workhorse running back, averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Etienne averages 8.6.
What makes Dillon so dangerous, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, is his toughness. Boston College is one of the more physical teams in the league and Dillon fits that mold.
"He'll play," Swinney said, hedging his bet that Dillon will be healthy Saturday.
"He does some of the stuff that may not (make you) go 'Wow,' but he's pounding people. He is a sledgehammer in there."
A sledgehammer Clemson needs to stop.