The Virginia Tech Hokies are making their final preparations for the final game of the Frank Beamer era against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes in the 2015 Independence Bowl. The Hokies are two-touchdown favorites against Tulsa, but know they can’t underestimate the high-powered Tulsa offense that has averaged 35.9 points and 329.8 passing yards per game.
However, Tulsa ranks 120th in scoring defense as they’ve allowed an average of 38.6 points per game including 66 points against new Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and Memphis earlier this season. With that said, let’s take a look at three Hokies to keep an eye on in Shreveport.
TE Bucky Hodges
Within the last couple of weeks, Bucky Hodges filed paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board which means this may also be Hodges’s last game along with Frank Beamer’s and the departing seniors. Hodges had a slight sophomore slump in 2015 with declines in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before Virginia Tech’s bowl game.
However, Hodges has stretched the field more this year as his yards per reception has increased from 11.7 in 2014 to 13.7 in 2015. With that said, Hodges’s matchup against one of the worst defenses in the nation gives Hodges a chance to make a big impression on NFL Draft scouts if he decides to go to the draft.
Hodges has always been a tough matchup for opposing defenses as a 6’7” tight end with good speed and tremendous athleticism. The one issue for Hodges this season has been his hands as he has dropped more passes than what would be ideal for a player of his caliber athletically.
After only having 3 catches for 9 yards in the Military Bowl last year, Hodges has a great opportunity to end his 2015 season and possibly his career with a big bowl game performance. No one should be surprised if Hodges has at least 5 or 6 catches and a touchdown in this game against a weak Tulsa defense.
DE Ken Ekanem
Technically, Ken Ekanem is the only defensive line starter returning next season though Woody Baron made enough starts in place of the injured Corey Marshall to possibly include him. However, Ekanem will be the focal point of Virginia Tech’s defensive line entering 2016, and will want to finish the 2015 season with momentum.
Ekanem hasn’t put up as good of numbers as he did last season, but has still had a decent season with 37 tackles, 8.5 total tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 3 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles. Ekanem has played better the last few weeks with 11 tackles and 2 sacks in his last three games.
Ekanem and Virginia Tech’s defensive line are likely looking forward to this matchup against a weak Tulsa offensive line that has allowed Tulsa QB Dane Evans to be sacked 35 times this season. Charley Wiles will have Ekanem and the defensive line fired up to finish off the season with a strong performance against this weak Tulsa defensive line.
Ekanem has some momentum coming in this game, and will want to build on that ahead of the offseason and spring practice. Don’t be surprised if Ekanem and fellow starting DE Dadi Nicolas have big games against a below-average Tulsa offensive line.
The end of the Frank Beamer era is upon us and what a great ride it has ben. Virginia Tech wouldn’t have nearly the same level of recognition athletically and in general if it wasn’t for what Beamer did as a leader not only of the football program but also of the university as a whole.
For the Hokies, it’s time to win this one for the legend that led Virginia Tech to greater heights than what were previously imaginable when Beamer first arrived.