BLACKSBURG—A variety of factors have contributed to Virginia Tech’s consolidated running back rotation in recent weeks.
The Hokies have dealt with injuries in the backfield—Jalen Holston the first week of the season and Keshawn King more recently—and leaned into designed quarterback runs with Quincy Patterson starting.
Notre Dame doubled down against the run by going with five defensive linemen for much of the game on Saturday. Tech finished the game with a season-low 36 carries for 101 yards (2.8 yards per carry).
While starting running back Deshawn McClease has maintained a steady workload, the only other Tech back to carry the ball the last two weeks is Dalton Keene. Keene, who is splitting time in the backfield and at tight end, is a reliable blocker and brings some size to the backfield.
King could return on Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s no guarantee he’ll jump right back into the rotation.
“I think he’ll be good to go this week,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said, of King. “I don’t know, we’ll see. It kind of revolves around who we’ve got and who’s healthy and who’s ready to go and we’ll try to put it together the best we can.”
The Hokies aren’t ruling out getting Holston back in the final weeks of the season either.
“We’re certainly within the realm of saying we’re looking at things in terms of weeks as opposed to months now,” Fuente said. “He’s made good progress. I just don’t know when. He’s doing quite a bit more than he has, not in terms of practice but just in terms of mobility and running around and that sort of stuff. Those things are kind of hard to project. I still feel like there’s a good chance we’ll have him. I know he wants to be back. We’ll have him at some point during the year.”
Tech does have a stable of other running backs at their disposal—Terius Wheatley, Caleb Steward, and Tahj Gary—but they haven’t had many opportunities. Steward has nine carries this season for 28 yards and Gary has four carries for 24 yards.
Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said Wheatley has dealt with “nagging injuries” throughout the fall. Wheatley had a hard time staying healthy last year and needed offseason shoulder surgery. The running back remains the team’s primary kick return specialist, but has yet to touch the ball out of the backfield.
Steward is currently health, but Cornelsen said he’s missed practice time this fall as well.
“One week they’re there, one week they’re not,” Cornelsen said. “It’s just hard to get them where you want them, get them consistent. That’s kind of been the story with all of those guys.”
Gary has been the most consistent backup running back at practice in recent weeks.
With the true freshman coming off a major leg injury he suffered his senior year of high school, the coaching staff has been reluctant to put too much on his plate just yet. He can play in up to three more games this season and still redshirt.
“He’s been the one that’s been healthy and been there and continues to get better and continues to look good, but there’s certainly a number of those guys that gotta – we’re going to need ‘em all at some point, and they’re doing a good job when they are healthy and they’re practicing hard and they’re getting better,” Cornelsen said.