Tulsa players are very excited to be back in a bowl game

Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery says his players are excited about going to a bowl game and ready to take on the challenge of Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl.

“This is a great step forward for our program,” said Montgomery. “Our energy level has been really good.”

The kickoff is at 4:45 p.m. December 26 at Independence Stadium Shreveport, Louisiana. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Tulsa (6-6, 3-5 American Athletic Conference) last played Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) in 1978 in Blacksburg. TU won 35-33.

Montgomery, formerly an assistant at Baylor, is in his first year as a head coach. Montgomery won five more games in his first season than TU did in 2014.

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer is in his 29th season with the school – the longest tenure of any active coach in Division 1. Beamer will retire after the bowl game. Beamer has a career record of 237-121-2 at VT and 279-144-4 overall.

“Obviously, Virginia Tech is an extremely talented team with a Hall of Fame Coach,” said Montgomery. “Coach Beamer has done a tremendous job building the Virginia Tech football program into one of the powers in college football over the last 29 seasons.”

“I want to finish this thing in a good way, but we’ve got to go play well,” Beamer said. “Tulsa can throw the football. Any time you can throw the football the way they do, you’re always dangerous. We’ve got to get ready for that.”

Tulsa is No. 11 nationally in passing offense and Virginia Tech is No. 9 in pass defense. Tulsa is 14th in total offense while VT is 34th in total defense. TU is No. 25 in scoring while Virginia Tech is 47th in scoring defense.

Thirty of Tulsa’s 51 offensive touchdown drives in regulation took less than two minutes. Eighteen were under one minute.

Tulsa has a 3-1 record in the series, and has won the last three matchups.

The four games have been decided by a margin of 4.0 points . . . the largest win was a seven-point Tulsa win, 46-39.

Virginia Tech won the first game in 1970 by a score of 17-14 at home, while a year later Tulsa captured a 46-39 home win in 1971.

Tulsa won the next two games in Blacksburg, coming in 1976 by a score of 35-21 and in 1978 with a 35-33 win.

Tulsa receiver Keyarris Garrett was a unanimous selection to the American Athletic Conference first team, as selected by the league’s coaches.  Garrett leads The American in receiving yards (1,451), receiving yards per game (120.9) and is third for receptions per game  He is second in the nation for both receiving yards and receiving yards per game.

Garrett has six 100-plus receiving games this year, including two over 200 yards.  Garrett is one of only two players this year in FBS to have two 200-plus yard receiving games  – the other is Bowling Green receiver Roger Lewis.

Tulsa receiver Josh Atkinson has 932 yards and four touchdowns on 65 receptions this year.
 With 68 more yards, Atkinson would become the second Tulsa receiver this year to surpass 1,000 yards for the season (Keyarris Garrett has 1,451 receiving yards).

If that happens, it would be only the second time in school history that Tulsa would have multiple receivers with over 1,000 yards in the same season.

Tulsa had three 1,000-yard receivers in the 2007 season –– Brennan Marion (1,244), Trae Johnson (1,088) and Charles Clay (1,024).

TU quarterback Dane Evans went over the 3,000-yard passing plateau for the second 
consecutive season. He now has 3,958 yards – last year threw for 3,102 yards. Evans ranks 3rd 
and 6th on the school’s single-season passing chart.

His 3,000-yard plateau is only the seventh time in school history that a quarterback has accomplished that feat, while only two quarterbacks have gone over 4,000 yards in a single season – Paul Smith (2007) and David Johnson (2008).

Evans had his fourth career 400-plus passing game vs. No. 17 Memphis, tying Billy Guy Anderson (1965) for the most in school history. This year Evans has three 400-plus games, coming against FAU (424), No. 16 Oklahoma (427) and  No. 17 Memphis (421).

He also had four TD throws against both Oklahoma and Memphis.

Billy Guy Anderson quarterbacked Tulsa in 1965 and had 400+ passing games of 502, 477, 477 and 451 yards in just that one season.

Evans has moved into the top-4 on the school’s all-time charts for passing, total offense and passing TDs. Evans has thrown for 7,958 career yards, has 8,041 total offensive yards and 49 passing TDs, all putting him in fourth place on Tulsa’s career charts.

Only a junior, Evans is 1,366 yards shy of T.J. Rubley (1987-91) for 3rd place on the school’s all-time passing chart. He is also 1,039 total yards shy of T.J. Rubley (1987-91) for 3rd place on the career total offense list.

Tulsa safety Michael Mudoh and linebacker Trent Martin were the only other Tulsa players to earn all-conference mention.

Mudoh and Martin each earned honorable mention accolades.  Mudoh ranks second in The American for total tackles with 126 stops for a 10.5 average per game.  Martin is tied for first-place in the league for forced fumbles with four, and ranked fifth in tackles for lost yardage (14) and ranked eighth for total tackles (96).

Tech quarterback Michael Brewer is looking forward to being on the field against Tulsa, where his high school teammate, Conner Floyd, is a wide receiver. Floyd has caught 44 passes this season.

“We talked on the phone right after they came out with all the bowl games,” Brewer said. “It’s cool. We started this thing in high school, and even before that. We grew up third or fourth grade playing football together. He was always my receiver. I was always his quarterback. It’ll be fun to end our careers together on the same field.”

Tulsa has scored a bunch of points, they have struggled on defense, allowing no fewer than 21 points in any game this season.

“They’ve played a lot of teams that throw it around, and they’ve had some issues stopping that,” Brewer said. “We’ll kind of break down the field and see why that’s the case and make some adjustments on what we want to do.”

The Hokie players are ready for the bowl trip.

“We’re excited about it,” kicker Joey Slye said. “It’s a little different of an experience, but I don’t think it’s a pressure situation. It’s another bowl game, and Coach Beamer is taking it like another bowl game. That’s kind of trickling down to the rest of the players. We’ve got business to do, we’ve got business to handle, so let’s go out and handle business.”

Tulsa has the smallest enrollment (3,473) in the top division of college football. Virginia Tech has 24,247 students.

This is the third trip to the Independence Bowl for Tulsa. TU has a 9-10 overall bowl record. Beamer has taken VT to a bowl 23 years in a row.

The bowl streak began for Virginia Tech at the Independence Bowl.

“That’s kind of neat,” Beamer said. “It really is. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I’m pleased about it and our fans have always been good. It’s a little bit tough with the day after Christmas and travel’s a little far. They’ve always been great. Hopefully we can take a lot of people down there. We’ll celebrate Christmas together and hopefully celebrate a win the next day. We’ll work like heck to get it done.”

Beamer recalled that first bowl bid.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I can remember in the dressing room the room that was downstairs. Mr. McCarthy coming in there and inviting us and the place going crazy. It was big at the time and it’s big now. A couple of weeks ago we were saying, ‘Hey, let’s get to a bowl game.’ We’ve had some injuries, some tough games, some overtime games but the final result is let’s get to a bowl game and see if we can end this thing in a winning way. So we have that opportunity. To me, it’s extremely big right now.”

The only common opponent for the two schools was East Carolina. TU lost 30-17 to the Pirates and Virginia Tech lost 35-28.

“They kind of remind me of ECU, just the way they play,” Tech defensive end Ken Ekanem said of Tulsa. “They’re up-tempo. They pass the ball a lot, but also will hit you with the run. They’re pretty explosive. I’m looking forward to trying to shut them down.”

Another common factor is losses to Top 25 teams. TU lost to then-No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 17 Memphis and No. 16 Navy. Virginia Tech lost to then-No. 1 Ohio State, No. 23 Duke and No. 12 North Carolina.

The combined record of those teams that have defeated Tulsa is 55-19 this season for a .732 win percentage –– Oklahoma (11-1), Houston (12-1), Navy (11-2), Memphis (9-3), Cincinnati (7-5), East Carolina (5-7).

Tulsa had its third 600-plus total offense game with 603 yards vs. No. 4 Oklahoma. In Oklahoma’s previous two games, the opposing offenses (Akron and Tennessee) combined for only 480 total yards between them vs. the Sooners.

Evans threw for 427 yards and four TDs vs. Oklahoma and Garrett had a career-best 14 receptions for a career-high 189 yards and one TD vs. Oklahoma. Atkinson had 10 catches for 104 yards and one TD.  Zack Langer had 161 yards and one TD on 31 carries vs. Oklahoma.

Despite two more takeaways by the Tulsa defense, the Oklahoma offense broke a Tulsa school record for opponent total offense with 773 yards.