The Virginia Cavaliers have a lot to prove this year, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Keith Gaither enters his second year in the program coaching the running backs, a group that is no different from the rest of the program.
Gaither has been able to accumulate talent in this room, although the production has not been there yet. This staff has always emphasized the running game and its importance for setting up the rest of the offense. A lot of this production hinders on offensive line improvement, but the running backs are arguably the most talented position group on the Virginia roster.
It would be an injustice not to start with the player that the UVA community and beyond is rallying around. Hollins was wounded in the shooting last November after going back into the bus to save his peers. Not only did he miraculously survive but returned to full contact football activities in spring camp.
Hollins may or may not lead the Virginia team in carries (I don’t see anybody in particular emerging as a workhorse) but will certainly be running with an extra purpose this season. He is a powerful back with breakaway speed and the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Hollins is widely considered the most well-rounded player in the room.
Pace received plenty of snaps in 2021 at Clemson where he ran for 641 yards and six touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. After his playing time diminished this past season, he transferred to Virginia to rejoin Tony Elliott.
Pace is best known for his big play ability, notching gains of 59, 39, 34, 33, and 28 yards in that 2021 season. He runs with patience but quickness, able to burst through small holes when they open up. Elliott actually used these skills on the goal line, despite Pace not being the guy that will run you over.
At just 5’7”, Jones entered the UVA program with walk-on status. Now as a sixth-year senior, he is one of the leaders of the room. Last year, Jones ran for 365 yards and four total touchdowns. He is not the most talented guy in the room but it would be shocking to not see him at least get used situationally.
Brown saw the field sportingly as a true freshman and is primed to break out in 2023, if given the opportunity. His 88 yards on nine carries against Old Dominion were pivotal towards the ‘Hoos avoiding an embarrassing upset. Unfortunately, Brown will likely be sidelined for another month with a dislocated elbow so he’ll lose out on precious reps in fall camp and probably the first few weeks of the season.
Other Pieces to Know
- Cody Brown: Transferred from Miami last offseason but struggled to gain playing time. Brown remains the highest rated high school recruit in the room (class of ‘21)
- Amaad Foston: Former three-star recruit from Georgia who redshirted as a true freshman and then missed the 2023 season due to injury. He’s a sleeper candidate to have a role in the offense when he does finally step on the field for UVA.
- Jack Griese: Grandson of Pro Football Hall of Famer, Bob Griese, and sophomore walk-on who flashed in in the 2023 Spring Game. Griese is a big, bruising back.
- Donté Hawthorne: True freshman prospect out of Stafford, VA. Hawthorne has an impressive combination of size and speed.
- Noah Vaughn: Three-star true freshman prospect out of Tennessee.