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The Hokies and the Camping World Independence Bowl

Gobbler Country takes a look at the history surrounding the Independence Bowl and their foe, the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the 1992 season the Virginia Tech Hokies finished with a poor 2-8-1 record. This was the worst record since Beamer’s inaugural season at VPI when he only managed a 2-9 season. In the six years since he had taken the job Beamer only managed a 24-40-2 record. Many fans were calling for a change, but Virginia Tech athletic director, Dave Braine, refused to oust Coach Beamer. A risky decision that ended up changing the fabric of Virginia Tech athletics. The next season Beamer led the Fighting Gobblers to an 8-3 regular season record, and they were the AP’s No. 22 team when they accepted the invitation to the 1993 Independence Bowl against the No. 21 Indiana Hoosiers.

The matchup between VT and Indiana was the first time two ranked teams had met at the Independence Bowl. The 1993 Hokie squad was a record setting team that, at the time, was the highest scoring offense in VT history and featured the Hokies’ first consensus All-American, center Jim Pyne. The Hokies’ 11th ranked scoring offense overwhelmed the Hoosier’s 7th ranked scoring defense on their way to a dominating 45-20 win.

The 1993 Independence Bowl was only the second bowl victory in the history of Virginia Tech. Many considered the win a turning point for the program. Looking back on the accomplishments of the Beamer led team, and the 23-year bowl streak, it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. In a rather satisfying example of symmetry it seems appropriate that Frank Beamer close out his bowl streak where it started – the Independence Bowl.

On Saturday, December 26, the Hokies will face the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes in Shreveport, Louisiana. Tulsa has been struggling for the last few years, and have not been to a bowl since 2012 when they defeated Iowa State in the 2012 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. In Philip Montgomery’s first season as the Tulsa head coach he has them on the road to recovery with a potent offense. The Golden Hurricanes finished the regular season 6-6 and were 3-5 throughout conference play against AAC foes. But, Tulsa’s list of victories is not particularly noteworthy. The only team with a winning record that they defeated were the 7-5 New Mexico Lobos. The combined record of the teams the Golden Hurricanes beat is a paltry 17-56, including the fully defeated UCF Golden Knights and the two win teams of SMU and ULM.

Considering Montgomery was the former OC of the Baylor Bears it is no surprise that he has instituted a powerful ability to put points on the board, but their defense has struggled mightily. Nobody in the AAC allowed more points than Tulsa (463). Though, Tulsa does feature the second leading receiver in college football. Senior Keyarris Garrett has 88 receptions for 1,451 yards, and seven touchdowns. He averages an impressive 16.5-yard average per reception. He has two 200+ yard games. His best effort was against Memphis where he torched the Tigers for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Tulsa QB, Junior Dane Evans, is no slouch either. On the season he is 278-441 (63%), 3958 yards, 22 TDs, and only eight interceptions. At 3958 yards he is the number eight passing QB in college. He certainly has an ability to air the ball out, but none of that skill translated to his ground game. On 84 rushing attempts he managed to amass -27 yards (-0.3-yard average). With 35 sacks he is tied for the fourth most sacked QB. Considering the Hokie’s struggles against rushing QBs, Evans inability to move the ball with his legs is a welcome reality. D’Angelo Brewer and Zack Langer are the leading rushers in the RB committee that Tulsa employs. Brewer has 732 yards on 148 touches (4.9-yard average) and four TDs. Langer has 714 yards on 193 touches (3.7-yard average) and is tied for ninth in college football with 17 touchdowns. During the regular season the running backs did not play too much of a factor in the passing game. Brewer and Langer have combined for only 164 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown.

College football will be hard pressed to find a team that is playing with more motivation than the Virginia Tech Hokies. Sending Beamer off into the sunset with a final win and one last winning season will be a priority for every player and staffer on the field. The Hokies’ last two games have been extremely emotional. This bowl game will be no different, and could likely be even more bittersweet.

There are a few other Virginia Tech milestones that may pale in comparison to Frank Beamer’s last game, but are nonetheless exciting. Isaiah Ford is only 26 yards away from breaking Andre Davis’ Virginia Tech receiving yards record, and 63 yards from becoming the first Hokie receiver to ever crack 1,000 yards. Freshmen RB, Travon McMillian, is 39 yards from becoming the first 1,000 yard Hokie RB since David Wilson’s record setting 2011 effort (1,709 yards). Considering Tulsa’s porous defense, barring injury, it seems both of those accomplishments could be achieved before half-time. Although Virginia Tech has announced the successor of Coach Beamer, former Memphis HC, Justin Fuente, Beamer and his current staff will be on the sidelines, one last time, for the bowl game.

Virginia Tech does not have a particularly impressive victory sheet for the season either. Like the Golden Hurricanes the Hokies have only defeated one team with a winning record – the 7-5 N.C. State Wolfpack. The combined record of the teams the Hokie’s defeated is 23-48, including the 2-10 Purdue Boilermakers and the 4-7 Furman Paladins. Although Tulsa statistically has one of the top offenses in the FBS the Hokies did have to face much stronger defenses, including Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Duke. Additionally, Tulsa was blown out in several of their losses. They lost four games by 14 or more points. The Hokies were only blown out once – their opening match against Ohio State. The Hokies lost four games by one score or less while only one of Tulsa’s losses was by one score or less. Interestingly, both the Hokies and Golden Hurricanes failed to defeat only one team that did not have a winning record – the East Carolina Pirates. The ECU losses are arguably the most disappointing failures, of the season, for both VT and Tulsa.

As was mentioned above, the Independence Bowl was Frank Beamer’s first bowl game. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Independence Bowl. The first one was held on December 13, 1976. In that game McNeese State defeated Tulsa, 20-16. The 2015 Indy Bowl will be a grouping, of sorts, for former Independence Bowl first timers. Tulsa participated in the very first Indy Bowl, and Frank Beamer’s very first bowl appearance (and victory) was also at Shreveport.

Coach Beamer has already shared his excitement for returning to the Independence Bowl saying, "We were appreciative then, and we’re appreciative now… Our current bowl streak started at Shreveport, and for me, that’s where it will end."

Who: Virginia Tech Hokies versus Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

Where: Camping World Independence Bowl, Shreveport, Louisiana

When: December 26, 2015, 545pm EST

How: Televised on ESPN