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Virginia Tech football: Malachi Thomas a bright spot on an otherwise ugly Saturday

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Thomas is a true freshman running back from Hartwell, Georgia.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It was a beautiful day in Blacksburg on Saturday. The weather was sunny, but fall was definitely in the air. You might say it was the perfect day for a football game.

The Virginia Tech Hokies, who were 3-3 on the season and 1-1 in ACC play, hosted the Syracuse Orange in an important game for both schools.

The game started positively for the Hokies, as quarterback Braxton Burmeister found tight end Drake DeIuliis for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Hokies an early 7-0 lead. Unfortunately, Syracuse’s offense was up to the task on Saturday, specifically dual-threat passer Garrett Shrader.

We know how this one ended. The Hokies had a 9-point lead with under five minutes remaining when Syracuse found the end twice to come away with an improbably five-point win.

Lane Stadium was deflated. Virginia Tech’s sideline was dejected. Virginia Tech fans on social media were apoplectic.

There were many reasons for that loss, and we’ll get into the bigger picture of that loss later in the week. But, for now, we should celebrate one player who did his job on Saturday, and that is true freshman running back Malachi Thomas.

Thomas signed with Virginia Tech last December. He was a three-star prospect from Hart County High School in Hartwell, Georgia. We watched some of Thomas’ film around the time he committed. What you saw was an explosive player who likely would’ve had more offers if COVID hadn’t arrived.

So, Virginia Tech’s coaching staff did an excellent job of finding a potential gem in Thomas. Throughout the summer, we were told how Thomas was the most impressive back on the roster. While coaches loved him, they rode with more experienced options like Jalen Holston, Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King.

Virginia Tech sparingly used Thomas.

Finally, on Saturday, the coaches decided to give Thomas the ball. And, he was the best player on the field.

Thomas rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Syracuse. His big touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave Virginia Tech glimpses of past greats like Kevin Jones, Lee Suggs, Ryan Williams, or David Wilson when he exploded into the secondary with nothing but green grass in front of him for an easy score.

Sadly, Virginia Tech’s defense wilted, much like it did two weeks earlier in the loss to Notre Dame, and Thomas’ best efforts came in a losing effort.

I will not get into why the coaches held Thomas on the bench for the first half of the season. Despite some shuffling along the offensive line, Thomas still had the best game from a Virginia Tech running back this season. His talent is evident. This isn’t to disparage the other backs. I like Blackshear a lot. He is misused. If used properly in a role that best fits his ability, he could play in the NFL. But he shouldn’t be Virginia Tech’s No. 1 running back. That role should belong to Thomas.

Thomas runs with patience, has outstanding vision and possesses the burst to take it to the house at any time.

Virginia Tech has five games remaining in 2021. Things aren’t likely to get a lot better. Perhaps we can watch for younger players to seize opportunities the way Thomas did on Saturday.

Instead of five takeaways this week, I wanted to focus on something positive. That positive is Malachi Thomas. There’s plenty of negative out there and will continue to be over the next several weeks and months. But, for now, let’s celebrate Malachi Thomas. If you needed another reason to watch the Hokies in the coming weeks, Thomas provides that reason.