Though he’s not nearly as shifty as predecessor Tyrod Taylor, Thomas has proven that his legs can also be a weapon, most notably on that 19-yard touchdown run that gave the Hokies a 38-35 victory over Miami.
It’s no coincidence that in Virginia Tech’s lone loss this season – a 23-3 home defeat to Clemson — the coaching staff shied away from calling designed run plays for Thomas because he was nursing a sore shoulder. Of course, the injury was the result of lowering said shoulder and walloping Marshall safety Devin Arrington en route to the end zone a week earlier.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a pleasure,” Thomas said Tuesday when asked about his propensity for running over opposing defenders. “I go out there to play to have fun and it’s definitely fun to do something that way. I’ve played the same way my whole life. I enjoy it, but I guess you could say it’s a pleasure just because I’m able to go out there and do it.”
Crowds seem to agree. The sheer physicality with which the 6-foot-6, 254-pound redshirt sophomore runs has drawn plenty of “ooohhhs” from fans both at Lane Stadium and on the road. And the number of players who have felt Thomas’s wrath continues to grow.
In the season opener against Appalachian State, Thomas made safety Patrick Blalock look like a tackling dummy on a 12-yard-run. At East Carolina the next week, Thomas picked up a third-down conversion by rumbling for eight yards and knocking the helmet off of Pirates’ defender Jeremy Grove.
The most impressive knockdown may have come against Miami two weeks ago, when Thomas leveled linebacker Sean Spence, a player many talent evaluators believe will be playing on Sundays in the not-so-distant future.
“He’s certainly not as fast as Tyrod, but once he gets going, he’s a fast guy, too, and bringing a lot of weight with him,” Coach Frank Beamer said of Thomas. “I think when you’re going for that first down, you’ve got to take that chance and other times you’d like to see him go ahead and get down. I don’t know if that’s his nature, though. You certainly don’t want him taking more shots than he needs to.”
For the season, Thomas has 61 rushes for 198 yards and five touchdowns. But as Beamer alluded to, those statistics don’t tell the story of what a weapon he has become as the Hokies try to put together long drives.
On top of those five scoring runs, Thomas has used his legs to give Virginia Tech a first down 17 times this season, many coming in short-yardage situations where Thomas’s huge frame makes it tough for a defense to stop him for fewer than two or three yards.
Thomas says his shoulder injury has healed over the past couple of weeks, and even though he admitted to losing some power in it, “it doesn’t hurt to take a hit or anything like that.”
But as that game-winning Miami run showed, the rewards of Thomas running the ball outweigh whatever risks Thomas may encounter from opposing defenders. After all, if the first half of this season is any indication, Thomas is dishes out more punishment than he receives anyway.
“He likes lowering his shoulder. It’s cool to see, but I want him in there throwing the ball. He’s a guy that can play through injuries, and when he’s healthy, he’s at a really good point,” wide receiver Danny Coale said. “Those have been really good plays for us here lately. I don’t really know what goes into his psyche, but obviously we’ve seen when he’s healthy he can gain some pretty good yardage on them.”