TAMPA, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – Marshall running back Keion Davis rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns and redshirt-freshman quarterback Isaiah Green passed for 221 yards as the Thundering Herd used a balanced offensive attack to roll past South Florida with a score of 38-20 in Thursday night’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
Davis and Brenden Knox split the duties at running back as Knox had 93 yards on 12 carries and a score as the Thundering Herd rushed for 282 yards rushing in winning its sixth bowl in six tries under coach Doc Holliday.
Marshall took advantage of South Florida’s 104th ranking in total defense in rolling up 503 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Keion Davis, who was the game’s MVP, put the game away on a 16-yard touchdown run with 6:24 to play. It was his second touchdown of the night as it capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive that saw the Thundering Herd melt 5:47 of clock in the final period.
“It’s the funniest thing in the world because when we was in the hotel, Isaiah said he was going to win MVP and I was like, ‘Yeah right, I hope that I win it,’” laughed Davis, who is Green’s cousin. “We have a lot to talk about on our drive back to Atlanta, Georgia. It’s kind of funny.”
Marshall dominated the fourth quarter with a 146-11 advantage in total yards that defined the Herd’s dominance in the game.
“We take great pride in our strength program and we taking great pride in knowing we are and extremely tough team,” said Holliday. “We take pride in knowing we are an extremely tough team and we know we just have to finish games like that.”
In the first half, Marshall used a pair of short fields to open up a 28-10 lead after the first 30 minutes of play.
After Green scored on a 10-yard run to give Marshall a 7-0 lead, defensive end Darius Hodge sacked South Florida quarterback Blake Barnett for a seven-yard loss as he forced a fumble, recovered it, and returned it 27 yards to the Bulls one-yard line. Anthony Anderson then carried over the top for a one-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
From there, it was an uphill battle all evening for the Bulls, who lost their sixth game in a row after winning their first seven games.
Leading 21-7 late in the second quarter, Marshall’s Marcel Williams broke open the game when he took a punt return 28 yards to the Bulls’ 17. Three plays later, Davis became the fourth Marshall rusher to score a touchdown as he scored from five yards out for a 28-7 Thundering Herd advantage with 1:30 remaining before halftime.
Early in the game, Marshall got the ball rolling on offense midway through the first quarter when quarterback Isaiah Green scored on a misdirection on a quarterback keep off the left side for a 10-yard touchdown run. He was 4 of 4 for 63 yards on the drive and carried twice for 12 yards.
Marshall took a 21-7 lead after that first quarter. They have won 18 in a row when they score first and have won their last nine when leading after one quarter.
For the Bulls, quarterback Blake Barnett came into the game on the team’s third offensive drive in relief of starter Chris Oladokun. He had missed two games due to injury, but shook off the rust as he threw for 211 yards and found Randall St. Felix for touchdown passes on a 33-yard strike with 3:16 to play in the third quarter, which cut the Marshall lead to 31-20.
St. Felix set a Gasparilla Bowl receiving record with 27.5 yards per catch as he also had two touchdown receptions. The first was in the second quarter on a pass from wide receiver Tyre McCants, who lined up in a Wildcat formation and ran right before firing the strike.
The Bulls finished with six losses in a row after winning their first seven as injuries riddled the team in the secondary in particular and those took their toll once the caliber of opponent picked up in the second half of the season.
“What you have to look [at] is we lost one of the best players in the history of this program,” said Bulls head coach Charlie Strong, “We lost a receiver [Marques Valdez-Scantling] who is playing for the Green Bay Packers and we lost four defensive players who are on NFL rosters. When you lose those players, it is really tough to replace those players. There is work to be done in the program and we have to go and get it done.”
Ken Cross is a sports contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org