We’ve come a long way from the days of Virginia Tech having Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson in the backfield. For years, it felt like the Hokies always had a future NFL lead back you felt could flip a game at any second.
Over the last several seasons, beginning in Frank Beamer’s final years, Virginia Tech has been unable to receive the same type of production it enjoyed when some of those familiar names were in Blacksburg.
During Justin Fuente’s six years as a head coach, the Hokies rarely found consistency at running back. You can blame the scheme and the playcalling — both of which could be true — but there was also a talent gap. The Hokies didn’t have a lot of NFL-type backs until Khalil Herbert showed up in 2020. And we saw what he could do. The 2020 Hokies were a threat on offense, mainly because of Herbert and quarterback Hendon Hooker.
When Brent Pry took over as head coach in 2022, he had a lot of bodies in the backfield but even more questions. Two certainties were sophomore Malachi Thomas and junior Keshawn King. Unfortunately, Thomas missed most of last season with injuries, but when he played, you saw the talent. King had his best season for the Hokies in 2022 and transferred earlier this year.
A big reason for King’s transfer is the arrival of Bhayshul Tuten. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound transfer from North Carolina AT&T has a chance to impact Virginia Tech’s offense much in the same way Herbert did in 2020. He’s that good. And this spring, he’s showing everyone that Virginia Tech’s backfield, with him and Thomas atop the depth chart, is finally a team strength.
Tuten is a big-play back who can also impact the passing game. Thomas has proven he can be a consistent performer when given the chance and adequate blocking. While Virginia Tech’s offensive line is still a work in progress, Tuten and Thomas should help stabilize the offense under second-year coordinator Tyler Bowen.
No one is quite sure what to expect from Virginia Tech’s offense in 2023. After last year, it’s best to have marginal expectations and go from there. One thing is certain, the talent is better at wide receiver and running back. If Bowen can figure things out as a play-caller and the Hokies get more from the quarterback, there will be improvements.
If nothing else, VT’s offense shouldn’t be as difficult to watch in 2023. In Tuten and Thomas, the Hokies have starting-quality backs who could have NFL futures, something we haven’t seen a lot of over the past decade.