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Gasparilla Bowl Breakdown: Marshall Thundering Herd

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The Bulls travel to sunny Tampa, Florida for their showdown against the Thundering Herd of Marshall.

Marshall v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Opponent: Marshall Thundering Herd

2018 Record: 8-4, 6-2 Conference USA

Head Coach: Doc Holliday, 9th Season (69-46)

Date/Time/Location: Thursday, December 20th at 8:00 p.m., Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL

How To Watch/Listen: ESPN, 820 AM, Bulls Unlimited, iHeartRadio

Series History: USF and Marshall have never played.

USF will look to close the season on a high note following a five-game losing streak and for most of the seniors, they’ll get a chance to play one last game inside of Raymond James Stadium.

A lot has happened in the month break between the War on I-4, including our beloved (not) offensive coordinator being scooped up as the head coach for McNeese State. Charlie said they’re focusing on the bowl game, so let’s take a look at the Thundering Herd from Marshall.

Background

The Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl was announced to...mixed reviews. It was expected that USF would play an ACC foe, but due to some moving around by ESPN, Marshall (the runner ups in the C-USA East Division) was selected.

After going 8-5 and 4-4 in the conference last year, Doc Holliday made significant staff changes by hiring Tim Cramsey as his OC and promoting Adam Fuller to his DC before the 2018 season.

The Herd have boasted one of the top rushing defenses in the country. Not once did they allow a single player to rush over 100 yards and they only gave up 14 touchdowns on the ground this year.

Offensively, Quarterback Isaiah Green won Freshman of the Year in Conference USA, and leads an extremely balanced attack that are aiming to take advantage of the depleted USF defense.

Marshall is coming off getting trounced by Virginia Tech 41-20 in an outing where Green struggled to find a rhythm in his passing game, throwing an interception and fumbling the ball. Running back Brenden Knox had a monster game showing however, rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

When Marshall Runs...

This appears to be a fairly even match across the board, although it appears that Marshall gets a slim margin of favor over USF’s defense in this game. Current conditions are calling for rain and sloppy conditions, so USF will have their hands full.

Marshall’s leading rusher, Tyler King, is questionable going into the bowl game, and signs are pointing towards him not playing. This leads the way for aforementioned Knox to take a majority of the carries.

It will be interesting to see if USF, without Nico Sawtelle, can find the will power to stop the run game, which they’ve struggled to do all season. Luckily, Green isn’t much of a dual-threat athlete, so all eyes will be on the running backs to run the ball.

When Marshall Passes...

Once again, we appear to have a fairly even match up, with Marshall having a slight edge in S&P+. Marshall has a decent explosive passing game, and USF was prone to giving up some big plays, especially on third and long. As mentioned previously, the forecast isn’t looking promising for dry skies, so the hope is that a ball may slip and a bounce may fall the Bulls’ way.

The freshman Green has been prone to turning the ball over, throwing 10 interceptions in nine games played this year. USF’s secondary hasn’t been the ball hawking unit we saw last year, but with this can be an excellent opportunity for some young defensive backs and linebackers to get valuable playing experience.

Tyre Brady is the go to receiver for MU, having 60 catches on the year for 819 yards and nine TDs. The next leading receiver, Obi Obialo, has a little more than half those receptions on the year with 37 for 463 yards and four touchdowns.

When USF Runs...

Possibly the worst case scenario for USF was to get a bowl opponent who was good at stuffing runs, and lo and behold, we got one of the best at it.

Marshall ranks in the top 25 in nearly every S&P+ category when it comes to rush defense, and have yet to allow a running back to rush over 100 yards in a game. USF’s offensive strength of run explosiveness, ranked 16th, is matched by Marshall’s defensive run explosiveness at 13th.

The Herd are also incredibly talented at stuffing runs and getting tackles for loss, totaling 88 TFLs on the year.

Defensively, MU is led by WLB Chase Hancock, who leads the team in tackles with 98 on the year. Nearly every defensive player has recording at least a TFL or a sack, with NT Channing Hames leading the team in TFLs with 10.5 for the season.

When USF Passes...

Though not as stout in the passing game as they are in the running game, Marshall’s defense still has the edge against USF’s passing game.

The key stat to look at is the sack rate, where Marshall is ranked 15th. The Thundering Herd have 39 sacks on the year, getting 3.25 per game. USF’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection and giving the quarterbacks enough time to throw the ball, but with a new play caller at the helm, we could possibly see quicker throws to try to negate the pass rush.

Prediction

Across the board, this doesn’t look pretty for USF.

There’s very few match ups that would have favored USF in this bowl game, and with the team riding low on a five game skid, it’s hard to see a team this depleted to pull off a victory.

However, its bowl season, crazy things happen right? There appears to be some much needed energy during practices leading up to the game, and I know these players desperately need want to win this game. Let’s get weird.

USF 38, Marshall 24