Duke-Virginia Tech Preview
The Hokies (6-1, 3-0 ACC) rose three spots to No. 16 in their week off and will put their six-game winning streak on the line Saturday against Duke (5-2, 1-2) at Lane Stadium.
"I think we all wish that we could have played on Saturday," Thomas said. "Any time you get the chance to play, it's fun, but we all know that we needed the bye. A lot of us were banged up. We needed that time to rest up, get a little bit back. I feel much better than I did before we left for break.
"I'm just excited to be back and get a chance to make a run at the rest of the way."
Thomas has been battling an abdominal strain and an injured right foot.
"For me it was best for the physical break. My foot has been a little bit bothering me, but other than that, I feel back to normal," he said. "My arm's back to being live again."
Virginia Tech practiced only twice last week, and used the time to try to find some answers to a still-inconsistent running game.
"It's missed blocks, it's missed assignments on blocks, me not putting us in the right play, the perimeter blocking as well, and sometimes we miss our holes when we are running the football," Thomas said.
"I think last week was good for us to be able to look and see what the problem was and then go on the practice field and make up for it and figure out what we're doing wrong. We put a couple different things in and we'll see what we can do, what gives us the best chance to win and be effective in the run game."
The variance of the problems makes fixing it more difficult, coach Frank Beamer said.
"If it was one thing, it'd be easy to try to figure it out or get it fixed pretty quickly," said Beamer, whose team beat Pittsburgh 19-9 in its last game Oct. 12.
Opponents in the first half of the season almost routinely "stacked the box," putting eight or even nine defenders up near the line, essentially daring Thomas to try to beat them with his arm. But the passing game has been emerging.
Demitri Knowles has 29 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns, and Willie Byrn has 25 catches for 346 yards, a touchdown and some huge third-down conversions. D.J. Coles has 11 catches, five for touchdowns.
"The passing efficiency only works to expand options, Thomas said, "especially in the Hokies' new offense under coordinator Scot Loeffler. The coordinator's mantra all season has been `take what they give you'.
"With the way our offense is, you've got to be able to try and limit one thing and if people try to just drop back and take away our passing game, it's going to leave us space to try to run the ball, and vice versa," Thomas said. "We've just got to figure out what they're going to try and do to us, and after that, just take what they give us.
"That's what offense is: take what the defense gives you and just keep plugging along."
Duke, meantime, is one win away from being bowl eligible for the second year in a row, which would be a program first. The Blue Devils trailed 22-0 at Virginia last Saturday, and scored 35 unanswered points to win 35-22.
"We're a better team," coach David Cutcliffe said, comparing his team to the one that squandered the big lead. "There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. We're a better football team than we were a year ago."
Duke jumped out to a 20-0 lead at Virginia Tech last season, but the Hokies scored the next 41 points to come away with their 12th straight victory in the series. The Blue Devils have lost all seven visits to Lane Stadium.