After a commendable first season as starter at B-back, Georgia Tech’s KirVonte Benson has higher aspirations. Playing B-back effectively often means running with force straight up the middle, but Benson seeks more from himself.
Benson said Monday that he is “trying to improve myself so I can be more of an all-around B-back and more of an impact to the team rather than just being that power back that we’re used to.”
As a pile-moving power back, he wasn’t bad, particularly for a player who hadn’t played a single snap at B-back before last season. Benson gained 1,053 yards on 204 carries with six touchdowns. He was voted second-team All-ACC, the first B-back to reach 1,000 rushing yards in one season since Anthony Allen in 2010 (1,316). He ran for 100 or more yards five times, including a career-best 196-yard performance against Pittsburgh.
According to the website cfbstats, Benson had 14 third-down carries when Tech needed between one and three yards for a first down, and he delivered 11 times.
With powerful legs and a low center of gravity, he ran through arm tackles and bulled over linebackers. He might have been at his best on a 63-yard touchdown run against North Carolina, when he took a handoff from quarterback TaQuon Marshall, shucked three would-be tacklers within five yards of the line of scrimmage, broke to the sideline and used downfield blocks from A-back Qua Searcy and wide receiver Ricky Jeune to reach the end zone.
Through the season, he showed elusiveness, power, solid run-blocking technique and an ability to drive his legs to move the pile. But, watching game video, Benson saw other things, as well.
“Just looking over tapes and a lot of old games, I can see a lot of flaws,” he said. “Not just my game, but the offense, period. Just trying to correct those flaws, trying to become a better team as a whole.”
Benson said that his vision and footwork can improve, as can his ability to stay upright through attempted tackles. He pointed out Tech’s 24-10 loss to Clemson. On a wet night in Death Valley, Benson lost the ball on the Yellow Jackets’ opening drive. It gave Clemson a short field to score the game’s first touchdown and provided the Tigers an unnecessary advantage.
On Tech’s third possession, Benson broke through the line and raced through the secondary, but was caught from behind for a 65-yard gain, his longest run of the season. It was, in fact, the longest run allowed by Clemson all season. Still, with Benson having been brought down shy of the goal line, Tech settled for a field goal on a night when scoring opportunities proved few.
“We’re a running team; we’ve got to do much better,” Benson said. “And teams like Duke, teams that on paper we should beat, we’ve got to be able to come out sooner. And I’ve got to be able to produce from game to game. I can’t go from having a 140-yard game to a 26-yard game.”
Tech did indeed have some variance in its rushing output, from a low of 188 yards against national runner-up Georgia and 198 yards against the ACC champion Tigers to four 400-yard rushing games, the most in a single season in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.
And Benson’s example of a 26-yard game was not a number picked at random. It was his rushing total against Jacksonville State in the game following his breakout performance in the season-opening overtime loss to Tennessee.
“I practice as if I’m not going to be the starter tomorrow,” he said. “In my mind, I think every position is up for grabs right now.”
Benson has two more seasons and a chance to leave his mark on the Tech record books. Only six players in Tech’s modern era (1950 and forward) have rushed for 3,000 yards in a career, a total that would seem in his reach if his health permits and production continues. To make the top 10 for single-season rushing total, he’d need 1,316 yards. Benson is one of 10 offensive returnees who started six or more games, and he should have two of his more important teammates in the run game, left guard Parker Braun and center Kenny Cooper, clearing paths for him for the next two seasons.
Such talk would have seemed foolish a year ago, when Benson seemed blocked from getting significant playing time by classmate Dedrick Mills, who ran for 771 yards as a freshman in 2016 and figured to be Tech’s workhorse for the next three seasons. But Mills was dismissed from the team in August 2017 for violating team rules. It opened a door for Benson, who has clutched the opportunity and sounds like he has no plans to let go.
“Just looking back at so many things I could have done better – if I’d hit this hole in a different way or if I ran this in a different way,” he said. “And that’s just being a (student) of the game – studying tape, studying people, studying coaches, figuring out why they do what they do. By doing that, I can learn and can bring it out to the field, be a better running back overall.
“I believe all of us can do the same. You can see so many flaws that we think we’re not doing in a game, but if you look on tape, it’s there.”