If Iowa fans thought the Hawkeyes caught a break by drawing Boston in the Pinstripe Bowl, they’d be wrong.
The Eagles, despite being more or less a doormat in the ACC since Matt Ryan left, really turned the corner this year. Boston College (7-5) ended the season winning five of its last six games, thanks in large part (if not wholly to) freshman running back A.J. Dillon, the best true freshman tailback in the country not named Jonathan Taylor.
Dillon is the ACC rookie of the year so naturally he’s first-team all-ACC at the running back position.
That’s even more impressive when you take into consideration Dillon amassed the bulk of his 1,432 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in just 7 games. His first 20+ carry game didn’t come until week 5 against Central Michigan. Two weeks later, he ran for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns against Louisville. He was held for under 100 yards just one more time the remainder of the season.
The good news is Iowa is no stranger to facing talented running backs. The Iowa defense cut its teeth against Saquon Barkley and the aforementioned Taylor earlier this year, while also facing skilled runners against Minnesota and Ohio State. Boston College is probably a little more one-dimensional than those teams, however.
The Eagles reverted to backup quarterback Darius Wade for the past two games after starter Anthony Brown was lost for the season with a leg injury. Wade is a senior with several starts under his belt so he isn’t a slouch by any means, but the Boston College offense starts and ends with Dillon, as we were told by BC Blogger AJ Black on the Pants Party Podcast last week.
So where does that leave Iowa’s defense? Well there’s this middle linebacker named Josey Jewell. He’s a unanimous all-American. Big Ten defensive player of the year. Won a bunch of other awards too. He’s pretty good. And he’s going to be in charge of stopping Dillon when he gets to the second level.
The other linebackers surrounding Jewell are pretty good too. But Iowa’s chosen son is going to be in charge of finding Dillon in pre-snap reads and disrupting Boston College’s entire offensive situation.
Make no mistake: Dillon is incredibly talented, but he’s nothing this defense hasn’t seen before. So much digital ink has been spilled about Iowa’s bowl woes of the past five years but I like this matchup for Iowa. Not just because of Boston College’s shaky quarterback situation, but because the Eagles play the way Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker think football should be played. If those guys can’t come up with a scheme to beat BC (read: themselves) then they really haven’t earned their paychecks this year.
I think A.J. Dillon is going to get his, and holding him under 100 yards is a huge ask, but if there’s a team motivated to shut someone down in December, it’s the Hawkeyes.