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Tech fans have been in a strange situation recently. For the last three weeks, we’ve been following Justin Fuente’s recruiting closely, while also thinking about what the future might hold. We’ve been doing that while knowing that Frank Beamer’s last football game will be the Independence Bowl against Tulsa. That moment is finally almost here. Sometime around 9:30pm on Saturday night, Frank will no longer be Virginia Tech’s football coach.
Before we move to the Fuente era however, Beamer has one more game left to coach. It will be back in the Independence Bowl, where the Beamer Bowl era began against Indiana way back in 1993. Tech won that game 45-23, and they’re hoping for a similar result against the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa went 6-6 this season, and that includes a 3-5 mark in the American Athletic Conference. Philip Montgomery is in his first season as head coach. He was previously Baylor’s Co-Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
The Golden Hurricane enter the game averaging 35.9 points per game, but allowing 38.6. They rank as the 95th best team in the country, according to the S&P+ advanced ratings (Virginia Tech is #57). Today we’ll take a closer look at the matchup.
The Tulsa Offense vs. The Virginia Tech Defense
Tulsa is known for putting up a ton of points. How do they match up with the Virginia Tech defense in the S&P+ efficiency rankings? Let’s start with the Golden Hurricane offense…
Success Rate: #87
Explosive Plays: #24
Though Tulsa is averaging just over 35 points per game, their offense is only slightly above average in the overall efficiency ratings. They’ve been able to hit plenty of explosive plays, but their overall success rate on offense hasn’t been particularly good.
Here’s how Tech’s defense matches up…
Success Rate: #15
Explosive Plays: #117
On paper, Virginia Tech’s defense has the advantage, though the one area where the Hokies have struggled (big plays) is the one area where Tulsa has been good.
Evans to Garrett
Tulsa has one of the most productive QB-to-WR threats in the country. Dane Evans (6-1, 218, Jr.) throws the ball to Keyarris Garrett (6-4, 221, Sr.) with impressive efficiency.
Evans: 278-of-441 (63%), 3,958 yards, 22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
Garrett: 88 catches, 1,451 yards, 16.5 ypc, 7 TDs
Garrett ranks #10 in the country in overall receptions, and #2 nationally in receiving yards per game (120.9 ypg). He’s an extremely productive player who is expected to be a fifth or sixth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In such a high-octane offense, there are other targets as well. For example, Josh Atkinson (6-2, 208, Jr.) caught 65 passes for 932 yards and four touchdowns. However, Garrett is the most talented Tulsa wide receiver, and he’ll present the biggest challenge for Tech’s young group of defensive backs.
Triple Threat in the Backfield, but No Mobile Quarterback
Tulsa will use three running backs against Virginia Tech.
D’Angelo Brewer (5-9, 185, So.): 148 carries, 732 yards, 4.9 ypc, 4 TDs
Zack Langer (6-0, 225, Sr.): 193 carries, 714 yards, 3.7 ypc, 17 TDs
Ramadi Evans (5-9, 205, r-Fr.): 67 carries, 467 yards, 7.0 ypc, 6 TDs
The Langer touchdown total (17) is not a typo. Langer got the majority of the work in goal line situations, as his 17 touchdowns show.
That’s a solid three-man threat in the backfield, but I feel good about Virginia Tech’s ability to stop the running game. The Hokie defense generally has trouble with mobile quarterbacks, but they fare much better against teams with a quarterback who can’t run.
What are the rushing numbers of Dane Evans? Not so hot. Evans has 84 carries for -27 yards on the season. 36 sacks have something to do with that, and Evans is not a bad runner on the read option (218 gained yards this year), but he’s not as dynamic as some of the quarterbacks who have managed to beat Virginia Tech in the past.
The Offensive Line: Not a Strength
With the amount of points the Tulsa offense has put up this season, it’s easy to believe that their offensive line is a strength. That isn’t the case, however. Opponents sacked Golden Hurricane quarterbacks 36 times, and the offense averaged 3.8 yards per carry.
LT Evan Plagg (6-4, 279, So.)
LG Garrett Stafford (6-5, 315, Sr.)
C Chandler Miller (6-3, 293, r-Fr.)
RG Chris Wallace (6-5, 311, Jr.)
RT Willie Wright (6-3, 291, r-Fr.)
Evan Plagg doesn’t have ideal size at left tackle. Chandler Miller is inexperienced at center. Willie Wright doesn’t have the length or experience at right tackle.
Virginia Tech’s defensive line should hold the advantage in this matchup.
The Virginia Tech Offense vs. The Tulsa Defense
Virginia Tech’s offense has had its struggles over the last few seasons, obviously. They’ll meet their match when they play Tulsa, though. Here are Tech’s offensive efficiency numbers…
Success Rate: #80
Explosive Plays: #116
Those numbers are very modest, particularly the #116 ranking in explosive plays. Those rankings don’t exactly have VT fans brimming with confidence. Tulsa’s defensive numbers, however, should make you feel a lot better…
Success Rate: #106
Explosive Plays: #97
Tulsa ranks outside the top 100 in four of the five categories, barely squeaking in at #97 in explosive plays. This is a defense that allowed 38.6 points per game in 2015. Here’s their game-by-game scoring defense performance…
Florida Atlantic: 44
New Mexico: 21
East Carolina: 30
In their last seven games, every opponent has scored at least 30 points against the Golden Hurricane. If the VT defense can hold Tulsa under 30 points, you should feel very good about Frank Beamer going out a winner.
Hokies Must Stop Defensive Penetration
Despite their poor numbers for the season, there is something that Tulsa does very well: get penetration. The Golden Hurricane finished with 83 tackles for loss this season, which ranks #41 in the country. As a comparison, Virginia Tech is #58 with 77.
Tulsa’s penetration has tended to come from their most experienced players…
LB Matt Linscott (6-1, 212, Jr.): 16 TFL 5 sacks
LB Trent Martin (6-2, 235, Jr.): 14 TFL, 2 sacks
DE Derrick Alexander (6-2, 284, Sr.): 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
DT Derrick Luetjen (6-3, 291, Sr.): 8.5 TFL, 1 sack
The key for Tulsa is to get penetration and put Virginia Tech in long-yardage situation. That makes converting third downs and keeping the chains moving difficult for any offense.
However, despite Tulsa’s ability to make tackles for loss this year, their third down defense was very bad. The Golden Hurricane allowed opponents to convert 43.8% of their third downs this season, and that number ranks #102 in the country.
Meanwhile, the Hokie offense didn’t exactly hit on all cylinders on third down. Tech converted 36.9% of their third downs this year, and that ranked #87 nationally. Tackles for loss, and how it affects third down conversions, is something to watch for on Saturday.
According to the FEI special teams ratings, the Hokies have a huge special teams advantage. Here are Tech’s rankings…
Field Goal Efficiency: #3
Punt Return Efficiency: #35
Kick Return Efficiency: #67
Punt Efficiency: #14
Kickoff Efficiency: #69
Opp. FG Efficiency: #42
The Hokies aren’t worse than average in any of the categories above. Remember, returned block punts count as punt returns, so the Hokies are #35 in there despite Greg Stroman’s tough year.
Meanwhile, here’s where Tulsa ranks…
Field Goal Efficiency: #112
Punt Return Efficiency: #112
Kick Return Efficiency: #115
Punt Efficiency: #18
Kickoff Efficiency: #74
Opp. FG Efficiency: #36
The Golden Hurricane haven’t been able to kick field goals, and they can’t field punts or kicks, while they are also below average in kickoff efficiency.
Just in case you scrolled all the way down here instead of actually reading the preview, scroll back up and check out the efficiency numbers for both teams. The Tech defense has a fairly substantial advantage over the Tulsa offense, and the Hokie offense has an advantage over the Tulsa defense as well. Combine that with the huge advantage Tech has on special teams, and it’s easy to see why almost everyone is picking the Hokies to win this game by double digits.
Let me throw some more numbers at you. Here are the S&P+ rankings of the teams Tulsa beat…
Florida Atlantic: #93
New Mexico: #101
The Golden Hurricane only managed to beat one team ranked in the top 100 this year, and Florida Atlantic barely even qualifies. Here are the rankings of the teams Tech beat…
NC State: #27
Boston College: #66
Georgia Tech: #69
The worst team Tech beat (Purdue) is rated higher than the best team Tulsa beat (Florida Atlantic).
Bowl games can be a crap shoot, but every single metric that I can find gives Virginia Tech an advantage in this game. This Tulsa team is not nearly as good as the Cincinnati team that the Hokies beat 33-17 in the Military Bowl a year ago. I can’t pick against the Hokies in this one. They’ll have to screw up on their own to drop this game.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Tulsa 24
Will Stewart’s Take: Has there ever been a quieter run-up to a Virginia Tech bowl game? Surely not. From the moment Tech’s bowl destination was announced as the Independence Bowl in hard-to-reach Shreveport the day after Christmas against Tulsa … thud. All interest among the general Virginia Tech fan base went out the window, because the vast majority of Hokie fans aren’t going to the game, and the opponent isn’t compelling.
And so it is for Frank Beamer’s last game as Virginia Tech’s coach. I would say it’s sad, but really, it’s not. Frank has had a great sendoff the last couple of months, since announcing his retirement on November 1st. We have all had a chance to say our goodbyes, and the home game against UNC and the road victory over Virginia — in which Frank cemented a dozen straight wins over the Hoos and secured his 23rd consecutive bowl game — were full of pomp and circumstance.
Perhaps the way to look at it is that this one is more for the players and coaches than it is for the fans. It’s a chance for the players and coaches to do things one more time, with their current group, before things change forever. Eh … that sounds kind of lame. But circumstances being what they are, you really can’t describe it any other way, because most of us will be watching from our homes, or out in sports bars, not from the stands or sidelines down in Shreveport. So the players and coaches will try to win one more, with only a sliver of the fan base there to see it in person.
A return to the Independence Bowl as a bookend to Tech’s first bowl game under Frank in 1993 sounds poetic, and there is a certain symmetry to it. But the truth is that for Frank, things are ending not with a bang, but quietly.
Having said all that, I’ll enjoy watching one more game with Frank at the helm. This time, we know it’s his last game. In Charlottesville, we feared that it might be his last game; thank the football gods that it wasn’t.
I like this matchup. I think Virginia Tech will win it. And really, that’s the most important thing here. Yes, this is not the most scintillating bowl game (though I loved it in 1993, ha-ha), not the most incredible destination, not the most intriguing opponent, and a terrible day for a bowl game from a travel standpoint — only the actual Christmas Day could be worse.
But if it sends Frank out a winner, that’s all okay.
What the heck, let’s go for history repeating itself.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Tulsa 23
See what I did there?