— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall has been getting work done this week both in the classroom and on the practice field as its trip nears to the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida.
Marshall will face South Florida Thursday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium, which happens to be USF’s home field in addition to being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers home.
Marshall (8-4, 6-2 in Conference USA) enters the game as winners of three of its last four regular season games, while the Bulls (7-5, 3-5) are losers of five straight following a 7-0 start.
Final exams week just finished in Huntington and players can now gear all their attention toward what should be a close game against USF.
But Herd senior linebacker Chase Hancock has one additional task before he plays his final game —commencement ceremonies on Saturday morning at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
It’s a moment he thought might not arrive if not for some extra help.
“I used to call my mom and tell her that I might not make it, but she would encourage me and tell me that she’s proud of me,” Hancock said. “I’m very blessed and I never thought this day would come and it’s finally here.”
As for game preparation, the past two weeks have been eye-opening for Marshall redshirt freshman starting quarterback Isaiah Green, who is impressed with the Bulls’ athletic defense.
“They play a lot of guys on the d-line and they’re long and have a lot of speed,” Green said. “They are a bit light and not too tall in the secondary and they play a lot of man so that might open up some opportunities for us in the pass game.”
Marshall junior safety Malik Gant says film study and practices have been intense for he and his teammates and despite plenty of late-season problems for the Bulls, Gant anticipates that USF’s offense will be ready to challenge the Herd’s highly-touted defense.
“Their offense is strong and physical on the line and their slot receiver (Tyre McCants) makes big plays for them,” Gant said. Their backs (Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford) are all quick and elusive and the quarterback (Blake Barnett) is outstanding and makes lots of plays for them.”
Barnett’s availability for the bowl game is still in question after the junior missed two of the Bulls’ last three games due to ankle and shoulder injuries.
The Herd and Bulls are used to winning bowls.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is 5-0 in bowls, including last year’s win in the New Mexico Bowl over Colorado State. In fact, Marshall is on a six-game bowl win streak, going back to the 2009 Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit (a win over Ohio).
USF is looking for a third straight bowl win. Last season, the Bulls knocked off Texas Tech 38-34 in the Birmingham Bowl.
Marshall flies to the Gasparilla Bowl from Tri-State Airport on Sunday morning. When the Herd arrives at Tampa International Airport, bowl officials plan an official welcome, before the Herd and Bulls will have their first matchup of the week — a joint beach invasion at Treasure Island on the Gulf Coast.
Other events include a Monday trip to Busch Gardens, a players visit to two children’s hospitals, a battle of the USF and Marshall bands at Treasure Island on Tuesday and a Wednesday pep rally at Armature Works in Tampa.