It didn’t take long for true freshman Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams to make an impression as both running backs were listed as co-starters in a depth chart released by Virginia Tech on Monday.
Saturday's win over William & Mary marked the first game in each player's college career. McKenzie stole the show with 106 yards rushing including a 39-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. This is the second straight season in which a freshman ran for over 100 yards in his debut for Virginia Tech after Trey Edmunds ran for 132 yards against Alabama last season.
Williams had a strong debut as well with 41 yards on 12 carries allowing him to climb the depth chart as well.
With the Hokies preparing for a primetime matchup against Ohio State this week, coach Frank Beamer is showing remarkable confidence in his two young backs, but that may have as much to do with necessity as it does with merit.
Last Saturday’s starter J.C. Coleman rushed for only 20 yards on 10 carries against the Tribe and also fumbled the ball in the third quarter. He added a late touchdown, but did not look particularly impressive overall.
The season’s presumed starter Edmunds, meanwhile, lined up with the offense for only one play on Saturday. He played primarily with the kickoff coverage team, but according to Beamer complained late in the game that his leg was bothering him. Not a good sign for the sophomore running back as he continues to recover from a broken leg suffered at the end of last season.
The Buckeyes will present a much more difficult challenge this week for McKenzie and Williams, but not an impossible one. Ohio State gave up 370 rushing yards to Navy on Saturday in their opening win. The Hokies will be hoping for similar success.
The game, however, will be played in Columbus at the Horseshoe, filled to the brim with the Buckeye faithful. If the Hokies hope to be successful offensively, the will need both freshman running backs to show composure well beyond their years.
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