The University of South Florida will be making their fourth straight appearance in a bowl game when they take on Marshall University at the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 20, in Tampa.
This will be the first time USF takes on Marshall ever. At 7-5, USF is going into the game losers of five straight, looking to get back to their winning ways. The Gasparilla Bowl is not what the Bulls had in mind at the start of the season, but USF head coach Charlie Strong is still looking at the game as a good opportunity for the team.
“We are excited for the opportunity to compete in a bowl game against a good opponent and the chance to send our seniors out with a third straight bowl win,” Strong said. “We look forward to some good practices and work with our team to prepare for the game. Our players will enjoy the activities and bowl experience here in the Bay Area and they are excited to get back out on the field and perform in front of our fans.”
USF will have to deal with a tough Marshall defense. Led by senior linebacker Chase Hancock’s 8.9 tackles per game, The Herd defense ranks 23rd nationally giving up 335.58 yards per game and 32nd allowing 22.0 points per game. They are particularly tough against the run, ranking ninth nationally allowing just 103.9 yards per game on the ground. They also rank fifth nationally averaging 3.25 sacks per game and 19th nationally with 23 takeaways on the season.
With the struggles the Bull’s have experienced with their own defense, the team will have to rely on quarterback Blake Barnett and a tough running back tandem in Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford.
Barnett ranks 25th nationally passing for 249.3 yards per game and his 2,498 passing yards on the year are on pace for a top five season at USF. Cronkrite, a junior, became just the fifth Bull to run for 1,000 yards in a season and stands 24th nationally running for 99.5 yards per game, while the Freshman Ford also logged 737 rushing yards and ranks 10th nationally with 7.09 yards per carry.
Marshall is 8-4, and finished second in the Eastern division of Conference-USA, behind Middle Tennessee State University. Despite ending the regular season with a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech, the Thundering Herd have played tough all season and will be a challenge for the struggling Bulls.
With a few weeks to plan for the game, Strong should have the Bulls up and ready for Marshall, but unless they find a way to fix their defense, it might get ugly in Tampa.