Three games remain in the 2021 regular season for Virginia Tech, and the team plays its final home game of the season on Saturday against Duke. A 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on the ACC Network, the Hokies will honor more than 20 players during the pregame ceremonies for Senior Day.
“It’s a great group of kids that are growing into adults that have given a lot to this program and I think we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to them,” head coach Justin Fuente said on Monday. “We need to do everything in our power to send them off the right way.
“High character, great work ethic, good leaders.”
Fuente said that the Hokies are giving players the option to participate in senior day festivities or not and wouldn’t “take anything to the bank” based off of whether players involved in the ceremony or not. With COVID-19, senior day isn’t exactly what it used to be.
Some student-athletes finish degrees in three years and enter graduate programs. Freshmen often redshirt, too. But the pandemic threw everything for a loop.
Players like Dax Hollifield, who is a four-year junior thanks to the NCAA’s COVID year, have the option to return for a fifth season. Hollifield said he plans on doing just that, returning to Blacksburg to play with his brother, freshman offensive lineman Jack, with the rest of his teammates next season.
“I’m not [participating in Senior Day],” Hollifield said on Tuesday. “I’m planning on coming back. I’m not leaving, as of right now.
“That could very well be me out there [on Senior Day] if it wasn’t due to COVID. But it means a lot [to be able to honor them]. There’s been a lot of time and effort put in by these men and I want to send them out the right way.”
Fuente said on Monday that he believes tight end James Mitchell is participating in Senior Day, though he will do his due diligence in regard to his NFL future.
Consistent Run Game
Despite struggling to throw the ball against Boston College, Virginia Tech had a consistent offensive attack with the ground game. Malachi Thomas has been a revelation over the last three weeks, and that’s made Raheem Blackshear better, too. (Just imagine if Thomas didn’t have the game he had against Syracuse.)
In the first six games, the Hokies ran for anywhere from 100-to-135 yards four times. The high of that stretch came against Middle Tennessee (216 yards), while the low was Pitt (90), the only time Tech was sub-100 in rushing yards.
Insert Thomas against Syracuse. The true freshman had 151 yards and three touchdowns against the Orange, and he followed up that performance with 103 yards against Georgia Tech. In Boston, Thomas only rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries, though he averaged 5.4 yards per rush.
It was a similar game for Raheem Blackshear, who carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards (5.6 ypc). Tech’s leading rusher for the season with 430 yards, just 48 ahead of Thomas, Blackshear has found his groove since Thomas has turned it on.
While his backfield partner hit the century mark twice, Blackshear rushed for 78 and 83 yards.
The emergence of Thomas has revitalized the running game. Even when the Hokies were down to its second string quarterback in Knox Kadum at BC, they could run the ball.
The 162 rush total yards against the Eagles accounted for 69% of Tech’s total offense in the game. That all comes back to the offensive line creating holes and the backs hitting them with speed.
“He [Thomas] brought his heart [to this team],” offensive tackle Luke Tenuta said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he runs like he’s a big guy. He puts his head down when there are no holes and he’ll get yards.
“It’s impressive, his vision on the field, being such a young guy, and how he’s able to cut and see holes before they even happen.”
This is the run game that the Hokies were missing at the beginning of the season.
The loss of Khalil Herbert last season, Tech’s first thousand-yard rusher in Fuente’s tenure, hurt. He had 1,182 of the Hokies’ 2,641 rushing yards (45%), and he opened up the door for Hendon Hooker to rush for 620 yards in the eight games he played.
Tech spent the beginning of the 2021 season searching for a tandem or a group to replace that productivity. The duo of Thomas and Blackshear have combined for 802 yards, so they’re inching closer to that mark, but their averages – 4.8 ypc for Blackshear, 5.3 for Thomas – are solid.
There haven’t been many positives from this offense over the course of the year, but the two backs are definitely at the top of that list.