RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Boston College has been one of the nation's best big-play offenses behind the running of AJ Dillon. Yet it's unclear whether he'll be ready for Saturday's trip to face No. 23 North Carolina State and the Wolfpack's overhauled defense.
Coach Steve Addazio said Dillon is a game-time decision after suffering a left ankle injury in last week's win against Temple. His status, whether he's able to play or even be effective, will have a huge impact on a key matchup in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division race.
"He's working real hard and looks really good," Addazio said this week. "Just day to day right now."
Dillon ranks fifth in the Bowl Subdivision in rushing at 130.4 yards per game. And that put the Eagles (4-1, 1-0 ACC) among the national leaders by averaging 43.2 points and 476.8 yards through the opening month of the season. BC also ranks 18th nationally with an ACC-best 31 gains of at least 20 yards this season — including three runs of at least 50 yards.
There's no question of how important Dillon is for BC, which is 9-3 in the games since the 6-foot, 245-pound sophomore became the starter last October at Louisville. And it leaves uncertainty for the Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0) in preparing for the game.
"You have to prepare for both (scenarios)," coach Dave Doeren said. "That's just what you have to do."
The Wolfpack entered the season trying to transition from losing eight defensive starters, including No. 5 overall draft pick Bradley Chubb as part of a defensive line that sent all four players to the NFL.
Yet, amid all the hype around the Wolfpack's experienced offense, N.C. State leads the ACC in scoring defense at 15.2 points per game while ranking fourth in both total defense (347.2) and rushing defense (104.2).
"Typically at least in my career, the unit that gets the least talk is the one that's the most hungry," Doeren said. "I think that happened with our defense. I think they listened to everyone talk about the other side of the ball all summer and it made them mad. They wanted to prove something. All they heard about who was leaving instead of who is back."
Here are some other things to know about Saturday's BC-N.C. State game:
NEXT MAN UP
If Dillon can't play, sophomore Travis Levy is listed as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart. But it was receiver Ben Glines who carried the load last week amid Dillon's injury — running 23 times for 120 yards and a score — while Levy saw just three carries.
MOVING THE CHAINS
N.C. State ranks third nationally in third-down conversion rate at around 59 percent, trailing only No. 12 UCF and top-ranked Alabama. It's easily the highest rate under Doeren, now in his sixth year.
Meanwhile, Addazio said last weekend that the Eagles' inability to get off the field on third down is a concern after allowing their past two opponents to convert 16 of 33 third downs (48 percent) in the past two games.
If BC is going to get N.C. State's offense off schedule, senior defensive ends Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen will need to get pressure on quarterback Ryan Finley. Ray is second in the ACC with 5 ½ sacks while Allen has 3 1/2.
"We've got real chemistry, we're really good friends," Ray said. "Whenever I see him make a play, it kind of juices me up to go make a play, too. I'm sure it works the same, vice versa."
BIG THINGS AHEAD?
N.C. State is playing for its first 5-0 start since going 9-0 in the 2002 season behind quarterback Philip Rivers, now the longtime fixture at the helm of the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers. And it would be big to win this one with an open date coming up before the Wolfpack's Oct. 20 trip to fourth-ranked Clemson — the three-time reigning league champion.
Freelance writer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap