— By David Walsh
TAMPA, Fla. — Marshall University’s football team continues its bowl success under coach Doc Holliday.
The Thundering Herd raced to a 28-10 halftime lead and rolled to a 38-20 victory over South Florida in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, the home field for the Bulls and NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Holliday’s bowl record moves to 6-0 and Marshall’s all-time bowl mark improves to 12-2. The Herd has won seven straight bowl games.
Brenden Knox, No. 4 on the depth chart at running back for the Herd the first half of the season, ripped off a 43-yard run on the first play of the game and Marshall’s offense was off and running. The Herd (9-4) got in the red zone four times in the first half and scored four touchdowns. Knox had 93 yards rushing in the first half and didn’t see action in the second due to a broken hand.
Keion Davis, who was one of the team’s top rushers the first half of the season until injuries set in, came back in style. The senior finished with 94 yards on 14 carries and scored twice. His longest run was a 52-yarder late in the fourth period. He had a 5-yard run in the second period and 16-yarder in the fourth to wrap up the win. He was voted MVP of the game and took home the Treasure Chest.
“Just wait on your number,” Davis said after the game. “At the end of the day, plays will be made.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Green ended the season in style, completing 17-of-25 passes for 221 yards. He scored on a 10-yard run in the first period, his first rushing TD of the season. It would be the Herd’s first of five rushing TDs.
The Herd took advantage of a Bulls turnover in the first period to get its second TD. Blake Barnett, the team’s No. 1 quarterback, had missed two of his team’s last three games due to a leg injury and didn’t start Thursday night. Chris Oladokun did and went two series and then Barnett got the call.
Barnett couldn’t handle a high snap on his second play in the shotgun, the Herd’s Darius Hodge got the ball on a kind bounce and rumbled to the USF 1 before being tackled. Anthony Anderson scored on a 1-yard run on the first play for a 14-0 Herd lead.
USF, which ended the regular season with five straight losses, used some trickeration to get back in the game. Tyre McCants, a receiver, lined up in the pistol set, took the snap, rolled right and found Randall St. Felix open for a 38-yard TD.
In the second quarter, the Herd capitalized on a good punt return by Marcel Williams who got to the USF 22. Davis scored on a 5-yard run for a 28-7 lead. The Bulls got a field goal with four seconds left in the half.
Barnett, who transferred from Alabama to Arizona State and then USF as a graduate transfer, completed 11-of-23 attempts for 212 yards and one TD. That was a 33-yard strike to St. Felix, who finished with six catches for 165 yards. The Bulls finished with six straight defeats.
“This says a lot for our strength program and the way we prepare for bowls,” Holliday said. “We do what we have to do. Kids understand what it takes. The results are what they are.”
Herd receiver Tyre Brady, who will play in the Senior Bowl in January, totaled five catches for 88 yards to go over 1,000 yards receiving for the season. He’s the first to surpass that number since Tommy Shuler.
Marshall’s offense showed varied looks throughout the night and piled up 503 total yards, its second 500-plus effort of the season. The first came in a 23-0 win over UTSA late in the regular season.
“We had some injury issues,” Holliday said. “The o-line did an awesome job. They moved guys around. Tyre goes over 1,000. I apologized to Charlie (Bulls coach Charlie Strong). He understands. A great job by Keion.”
The game capped off a crazy season. The opener at Miami (Ohio) was delayed a long time by inclement weather. A hurricane forced the Herd’s date at South Carolina to be canceled. MU had a makeup game on Dec. 1 at Virginia Tech. And the team’s morning flight on Sunday to Tampa got postponed until late afternoon by bad weather.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Holliday said. “We end up with nine wins. I’m proud of the way we go to work.”
Marshall’s win gives Conference USA a 2-2 bowl mark to date.