He finally got to see it on Saturday, after a 12-minute beatdown by Duke put the Hokies in a 20-0 hole.
"We were able to move the ball any way we wanted to, throwing it and running it, and the defense was pretty much shutting down everything," Thomas said after the Hokies rallied from the early deficit to bury the Blue Devils 41-20.
"If we play like that, special teams on top of it, that's Virginia Tech football. That's what we need to do," he said.
Thomas threw two touchdown passes, freshman J.C. Coleman ran for 183 yards and two long touchdowns, and the Hokies (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) played well in all three phases of the game for the first time all season.
Duke (5-2, 2-1) arrived having won four straight and seeking one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. But after the fast start, the game did more for the Hokies' expectations going forward than for Duke's.
"I think our bubble feels burst," coach David Cutcliffe said. "It hurts today. It hurts a lot."
The Blue Devils gained 150 yards in the first quarter and just 84 in the next two quarters as Virginia Tech's defense came alive, intercepting Sean Renfree twice before halftime, sacking him five times and recovering two fumbles.
Thomas and Co., meanwhile, got into their best rhythm of the season. Thomas hit Marcus Davis with touchdown passes of 42 and 47 yards, and hit Davis with a 40-yarder to set up the Hokies' first TD. Martin Scales scored that one on a 4-yard run.
Coleman later broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run, giving the Hokies their first lead at 24-20, and he added an 86-yard burst around the right side midway through the fourth quarter to close the scoring. His yardage come on just 13 carries.
"The line gave me outstanding holes to run through," Coleman said. "It was great."
Davis had five receptions for 144 yards and thought once the Hokies started clicking, Duke got timid.
"You could tell they didn't want to play with us anymore," Davis said.
It was the Hokies' most complete performance of the season, one that gives them hope following a mediocre start to the season and with a brutal stretch of games about to begin. They play at Clemson on Saturday and then have back-to-back Thursday night games -- at Miami and home against Florida State.
The Blue Devils fell to 1-40 since 2004 against the teams remaining on their schedule and need to beat either North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech or Miami to secure their bowl bid.
At the start, it looked Duke might get that victory in Lane Stadium.
After making two first downs, Renfree sent Jamison Crowder deep in one-on-one coverage with Kyle Fuller, and Crowder caught a perfect ball over his shoulder as Fuller fell down for a 62-yard touchdown. The drive took just 2:44.
The Blue Devils followed a three-and-out by the Hokies with a drive to Ross Martin's 40-yard field goal, a march aided by a 21-yard pass interference call against Detrick Bonner and a 15-yard personal foul call against Derrick Hopkins on the same play. Martin added a 28-yard field goal, and the wheels really came off for the bumbling Hokies two plays later.
Thomas threw a swing pass from his 23 to tailback Tony Gregory, who juggled the ball, allowing Blue Devils safety Jordon Byas to snatch it out of the air and take it 20 yards untouched for the touchdown.
After just 11:48, Duke led 20-0, and a near sellout crowd sat in stunned silence.
But then the Hokies "started making a lot of plays, a lot of explosives," Byas said.
The Hokies' first touchdown came on the next drive, a 76-yard march highlighted by Thomas' 40-yard pass to Davis to the Blue Devils' 4. Scales took it around the left side on the next play.
The Hokies then got two big plays from their maligned defense to keep the comeback going.
Bonner's interception and 39-yard return late in the first half set up Thomas' 42-yard TD pass to a wide-open Davis 0:19 before halftime. That pulled Virginia Tech to within 20-17 at halftime.
Journell added a 41-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
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