Tulane missing some key players vs. Virginia Tech in Military Bowl

Field Level Media

December 24, 2023 at 10:39 am.

Tulane is searching for its second straight 12-win season but the Green Wave are also buried in a deluge of adversity.

Tulane (11-2) will attempt to overcome the challenges when it faces Virginia Tech (6-6) in the Military Bowl on Wednesday at Annapolis, Md.

Willie Fritz parlayed 23 wins in two seasons into landing the job as Houston coach, star quarterback Michael Pratt is sitting out to prepare for the NFL draft and interim coach Slade Nagle has no idea about his own future.

Tulane hired Troy coach Jon Sumrall as its new coach and he isn’t taking part in bowl preparations. Nagle will call the offensive plays from the sideline while Kai Horton and Justin Ibieta will both see action at quarterback.

“We’ll play with Kai and Justin, and I think you’ll see probably both of them play a little bit,” Nagle said.

Both players have big shoes to fill as Pratt is the school record-holder with 9,603 passing yards and 90 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,406 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

Horton completed half of his 62 pass attempts this season for 485 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Ibieta threw one incomplete pass.

Tulane also is missing other key players. Guard Prince Pines, wideout Jha’Quan Jackson, defensive end Darius Hodges and cornerback Jalen Monroe are preparing for the NFL draft. Also, leading receiver Chris Brazzell II (44 catches for 711 yards with 5 TDs) and safety DJ Douglas are among the Green Wave players who entered the transfer portal.

Virginia Tech also is dealing with assorted opt-outs as it attempts to halt a streak of four straight bowl losses.

However, running back Bhayshul Tuten, defensive end Antwaun Powell-Ryland and cornerback Dorian Strong were among the players who decided to remain with the Hokies and play in the bowl game.

“This is what I have wanted to do,” said Strong, who has a team-leading three interceptions. “I know that the League (NFL) is there for me but there are risks coming back but I think I made the right decision for myself.”

Tuten has a team-best 727 rushing yards and also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. He is eager to go up against a Tulane run defense that was ranked No. 9 nationally (93.5 yards per game) entering the bowl season.

“They are a pretty good defense but if we play the way we’re supposed to play with the level we’re supposed to play, we should be fine,” Tuten said.

Powell-Ryland leads Virginia Tech in tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (three).

Hokies quarterback Kyron Drones has passed for 1,994 yards with 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also has 642 yards and four scores on the ground.

Virginia Tech qualified for a bowl with a 55-17 thumping of host Virginia in the regular-season finale. Drones threw touchdown passes of 84 and 34 yards to Da’Quan Felton and 44 yards to Stephen Gosnell.

Tulane’s last contest ended on a sour note as it fell 26-14 to SMU in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The loss prevented the Green Wave from playing in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Despite all the opt-outs, Tulane will have star running back Makhi Hughes, who has 1,290 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground.

The Green Wave are 7-8 in bowl games and had a great experience last season when they scored 16 points in the final 4:07 to rally to a 46-45 victory over Southern California in the Cotton Bowl.

Virginia Tech is 13-21 in bowl games with its last victory coming in 2016 when it posted a 35-24 win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

This will be the 10th all-time meeting between the schools. The Hokies lead 5-4 and won the last meeting, 30-13 at home in 1989.