Home Virginia painfully thin at running back: Kobe Pace, pretty much, and a bunch of guys

Virginia painfully thin at running back: Kobe Pace, pretty much, and a bunch of guys

Chris Graham
kobe pace
Photo: UVA Athletics

Every year, around this time, the middle of spring practice, you hear the talk that, this is going to be the year that Virginia finally gets production from its running backs.

You won’t hear that talk this year.

The running-back room was depleted by losses to graduation, with Perris Jones (393 yards, 5.2 yards per carry in 2023) and Mike Hollins (274 yards, 3.7 yards per carry, 7 TDs in 2023) having finished up their playing careers.

Running-backs coach Keith Gaither had just three healthy running backs at the start of spring practice, and just one with any significant college experience, Kobe Pace (382 yards, 3.1 yards per carry in 2023).

For the first couple of weeks of spring practice, Gaither was rotating Pace and two sophomores, Donte Hawthorne (four rushing attempts as a freshman in 2023) and Noah Vaughn, who hasn’t played since his senior year of high school.

During camp, Gaither added junior Landon Spell, an option QB in high school, and another former high-school QB, Davis Lane, who had moved to safety ahead of the 2023 season, but has only gotten 31 snaps on special teams in his two seasons at UVA.

Basically, the pickins are slim this spring behind Pace, with just two other running backs in the mix for playing time in the fall, with juniors Jack Griese (11 carries, 34 yards and 1 TD in 2023) and Xavier Brown (210 yards, 1 TD in 2022) on the depth chart, but out for the spring with injuries.

Pace can be the workhorse of this group. At Clemson, where he played for three years before transferring to Virginia early last year, he gained 641 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2021, and he has size (215 pounds) and speed (he scored on a 75-yard TD pass last season) to be effective in both short-yardage situations and on the perimeter.

“I feel really good about KP, you know, I mean, he’s stepping into that role pretty good,” Gaither said.

The “surprise of the group” in the spring, per Gaither, has been Vaughn.

“He’s flashed quite a bit, and if he continues to get better with the offense and doing a better job of learning and straining on a consistent basis, he should have opportunity to help us in the fall,” Gaither said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].