Independence Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Tulsa

2015 Independence Bowl
Saturday, December 26, 5:45 pm ET on ESPN


Virginia Tech Hokies 6-6 (4-4)

Virginia Tech won enough games down the stretch to qualify for a bowl game for the 23rd consecutive season — the longest current streak in college football. The streak will end for Frank Beamer in the same place that it began 23 years ago with a 45-20 win over Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl. That game was very much in doubt until the Hokies blew the game open just before halftime with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown in a vintage Beamerball performance. Beamer’s final game as head coach of the Hokies promises to be the main storyline heading into the game, and it makes for a nice bit of career symmetry for fans of such things.

Travon McMillian and Isaiah Ford will both look to break the 1,000-yard mark in this game. McMillian has rushed for 961 yards to establish himself as the Hokies’ lead running back, and Ford currently sits at 937 yards receiving — just 25 yards behind the school record for receiving yards in a season held by Andre Davis. Ford already holds the single-season records for receiving touchdowns (10) and catches (63).

The run/pass balance has been key to the Hokies winning three of the team’s final four regular season games, including a near-upset of North Carolina. Tech shouldn’t have trouble moving the ball against Tulsa, but there will be some challenges for a Hokie defense that has defended very poorly against the run.


Tulsa Golden Hurricane 6-6 (3-5)

Tulsa is an offense-first program out of the American Athletic Conference that likes to pitch the ball around in the air. The Golden Hurricane passing attack ranks 11th in the nation after putting up 329.8 yards per contest. Quarterback Dane Evans has been impressive completing 63% of his passes for 3,958 yards and 22 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.

Evans has several talented receiving targets led by Keyarris Garrett. He led Tulsa with 88 catches for 1,451 yards and seven touchdowns. Joshua Atkinson isn’t far behind him with 65 catches for 932 yards and four scores. All told, Tulsa has five players with at least 400 yards receiving and six have caught touchdowns.

The Golden Hurricane will attempt to spread the ball around against a very stingy Virginia Tech pass defense that finished 9th nationally defending opponent’s aerial assaults. The Tulsa running game has been fairly solid with 172.9 yards per game. Both D’Angelo Brewer and Zack Langer rushed for over 700 yards this season, but Langer scored 17 touchdowns to just four by the sophomore Brewer.

Tulsa’s problem is on the defensive side of the ball. The Golden Hurricane rank 126th in the country in total defense and have allowed opponents to convert on 43.8% of third downs. Tech hasn’t been an offensive juggernaut, but they have the skill players on offense to make it a very long day for the Tulsa defense.

An interesting subplot to this game is that co-offensive coordinators Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox will be coaching their final games before heading to Texas. Gilbert will become the new offensive coordinator for the Longhorns and Mattox will serve as the offensive line coach for Charlie Strong.


This match up looks very favorable for the Hokies on paper. Tulsa has a dreadful defense that will likely struggle to slow the many weapons Tech has on offense. The Golden Hurricane will score some points and likely move the ball around, but the young Hokie secondary has really matured in the second half of the season.

Tulsa 24
Virginia Tech 35

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