The swan song of Frank Beamer’s 29-year tenure at Virginia Tech (6-6) is Saturday at the Independence Bowl against Tulsa (6-6).
In poetic irony, Beamer’s first bowl appearance with the program — a 45-20 win over Indiana in 1993 — and last will come in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium. Across the field from Beamer will be Philip Montgomery, who, in his first year as coach of the Golden Hurricane, led the team to its first bowl appearance in three years.
But the Golden Hurricane defense is atrocious, ranking 90th in red zone defense (opponents score on 87 percent of red-zone possessions), 119th in scoring defense (38.6 points allowed per game) and 125th in total defense (531.5 yards of total offense allowed per game). Tulsa would rather turn the Independence Bowl into a shootout — unsurprisingly, considering it averages nearly 150 more yards of total offense than Virginia Tech. The Hokies, though, would be in optimal shape if the game were kept low scoring, electing to trade jabs and three-and-outs rather than haymakers and quick-strike scoring drives. Dating from 2006, Tulsa is 0-26 when it’s held to 21 or fewer points.
Montgomery’s outfit has produced mind-boggling offensive figures against formidable competition: In the team’s loss to the College Football Playoff-qualifying Oklahoma Sooners, Tulsa put up more points (38) and total yards of offense (603) than any other Oklahoma opponent this season.
However, while the Golden Hurricane offense leaves rubble in its wake, its special teams unit ranks 87th in efficiency (Virginia Tech ranks 20th, its highest ranking in five years) and has allowed three blocked kicks. ESPN’s Special Teams Efficiency metric takes a team’s strength of schedule and overall performance over the course of a season—while lessening the weight of garbage-time possessions—and calculates a score between one and 100, where higher numbers are optimal and a score of 50 is average. Tulsa’s score in special teams efficiency has plummeted 16.8 points from a season ago.
Although the Hokies have won three of their last four games, the team allowed 378.7 yards of total offense per contest in November, the highest average of any month this season. That being said, Virginia Tech’s defensive lapses have mostly been against the run, and the team ranks seventh in pass defense (173.8 yards allowed per game), which is where Montgomery’s team predominantly excels. In total, Virginia Tech’s defense has held opposing quarterbacks to the second-lowest completion percentage (47.9) in the nation; only Clemson has produced a lower percentage.
The ability to control the opposing quarterback has been paramount this season for Beamer — in losses, opposing quarterbacks are connecting on better than 56 percent of their passes; in wins, they’re connecting on less than 40. While the same is mostly true for all teams, the Hokies’ ability to prevent completion on early downs puts more pressure on Tulsa’s third-down offense — which is well above average. The matchup pits Montgomery’s elite third-down offense against Beamer’s defense, which is adept at preventing them.
The Golden Hurricane offense ranks 24th in third-down conversion percentage (45 percent). In wins, the team is converting just less than 51 percent of its opportunities.
In total, Virginia Tech’s defense is holding opponents to a 33.7 percent conversion rate on third downs, which ranks 23rd nationally. This figure has been vital thus far for the team: There’s nearly a 13 percent spike in allowed conversions in losses vs. wins.
An illustrious career’s closing chapter unfolds Saturday, as two teams who haven’t met since 1978 take the field. It’ll not only be the final game for Beamer, but for much of his coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. For Montgomery, it’s a chance to cement what has been an already-impressive first-year campaign. The Hokies should control the scoreboard if they hope to leave Louisiana with the victory.