Herd arrives in Tampa, preps for bowl game vs. USF

— by Bill Cornwell

TAMPA, Fla.— Gasparilla Bowl week is on for Marshall’s football team as the Herd has held the first of three practices at Tampa Catholic High School.

Marshall puts a six-game bowl winning streak on the line as it faces South Florida Thursday night at 8:00 at Raymond James Stadium, which happens to be USF’s home field as well as the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The game will be televised by ESPN.

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 in the American Conference) are losers of five straight.

Marshall’s Sunday travel to Tampa didn’t go as planned, as rainy weather and low clouds in the Huntington area prevented the team’s Atlas Air charter plane from reaching Tri-State Airport in time for a 9am departure. The Marshall travel party didn’t leave Huntington until 5pm and reached Tampa at 6:50 pm, seven hours behind schedule.

The travel difficulties prevented the Marshall players from joining their USF counterparts in a Sunday afternoon “Beach Invasion” at Treasure Island.

The teams had their first direct matchups Monday afternoon as they both took part in activities at Busch Gardens.

Marshall’s first-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said Monday’s early-morning Tampa practice didn’t show any after-effects from Sunday’s long travel day.

“Assignment-wise and execution-wise, it was good to get out and run around a little bit,” Cramey said.

As much as preparing for the Bulls defense, Cramsey said his offensive unit is “self-scouting” and trying to improve on its own performances.

“You’ve got to look at what you’ve done in the past twelve games and then think about the next step moving forward,” Cramsey said. “ It’s a chess match on our side of the ball as far as they think we’re going to do and what we’ll actually do as well as us figuring out what they’ll do and doing something different.

“That’s the fun part of coaching and everything we do.”

Marshall tri-captain and senior offensive lineman Jordan Dowrey explained USF’s defense is giving the Herd a lot for which to prepare.

“They run a lot of different defenses…a lot of fronts and movement..and that means that we linemen have to identify things and be on the page across the board,” Dowrey said. “If you know they’re going to be in one front the whole day, it’s pretty straight-forward, but when it’s back-and-forth, that’s when you have to locked in and focused.”

Senior linebacker Chase Hancock is another Marshall captain and he’ll be playing his final game in a Herd uniform against USF. He knows that he and his defensive teammates are facing a major challenge in stopping a big and fast Bulls offense.

“They’re a solid offense,” Hancock said. “Running backs are good, their quarterbacks are good and their line does a good job blocking, so we have to make sure that we do our jobs and run to the ball and tackle.”

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is trying to preserve a perfect 5-0 bowl record. Holliday has picked up wins in the 2011 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, the 2013 Military Bowl, the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl, the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl and last year’s New Mexico Bowl, a victory over Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference.

Holliday says the bowl is a reward for a good season and it’s also an opportunity for Marshall’s program to keep its name in the Sunshine State conversation, as nearly a third of Marshall’s current roster hails from Florida.

Holliday calls the Gasparilla Bowl a potential “recruiting game”.

“There are a lot of young players in the Tampa area that will be able to see us and we have so many of our players who get a chance to go home and play in front of their friends and family,” Holliday said. “I’ve never coaches in a bowl in which the the other team is playing on its home field, so that’s another challenge that we’ll have to deal with.”

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