Marshall Football Notebook: Herd getting set for Gasparilla Bowl

By Bill Cornwell

Fall semester finals are underway this week on the Marshall University campus, but the work is no less intense at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and the Chris Cline Athletic Complex as the Marshall football team prepares a major bowl challenge.

The Herd faces the UCF Knights in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida on December 23rd.

Game time for the contest at Raymond James Stadium is 2:30. It is being shown on ESPN.

Marshall’s putting a seven-game bowl win streak on the line against the Knights, who have played in New Year’s Day “Group of 5” access bowls the last two seasons. 

Marshall Head Coach Doc Holliday is undefeated in bowl games at Marshall with a 6-0 record, including a 38-20 victory over USF in last year’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

The Thundering Herd enters the game featuring an .857 winning percentage (12-2) in all NCAA-sanctioned bowl games, the highest mark nationally among programs that have made at least five appearances.

As the Herd’s bowl preparation continues, Holliday is excited about the opportunities that another Florida bowl presents to his team and the MU program.

“The great thing about this bowl game is giving the Florida guys on our team an opportunity to spend time with their families,” Holliday said. “It also gives us the same as another spring practice. It’s also great exposure since we recruit so many Florida kids. It’s the only game being played on that day (the 23rd) and folks will watch it because they aren’t so bowl-weary at that time.”

Marshall is an early double-digit underdog to the Knights, but Holliday says the way to make the trip to Hillsborough County, Florida memorable is to come away with an eighth straight bowl victory.

“As many bowls as I’ve been to, you really only remember the ones you win,” Holliday said. “Its important for the kids to be with their families and have fun, but at the end of the day, you’re going down there to try to find a way to win.”

There are a few past Marshall connections who will be on the other sideline when the Herd and UCF play in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

Knights Assistant Athletic Director for Video Operations Brad Helton was a 20-year member of the MU football staff, serving as director of video services. His wife, Tara, is the UCF Associate AD for Academics. She was part of Marshall’s Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program for 11 years.

The Heltons have been at UCF since January 2016.

The Knights’ Director of Equipment Operations Rich Worner was a 15-year member of Marshall’s equipment staff. He also joined the UCF staff in January 2016. 

UCF’s assistant equipment manager is 2011 Marshall graduate Dustin Stover. He’s been a part of the Knights’ staff since February 2018.

Conference USA named its all-conference and all-freshman teams Tuesday and Marshall was well-represented.

In fact, the Herd’s eight first-team honorees were the most for any school in the 14-team league.

Marshall’s first-teamers were running back Brenden Knox, center Levi Brown, defensive tackle Channing Hames, linebacker Tavante Beckett, cornerback Chris Jackson, long snapper Matt Beardall, punt returner Talik Keaton and kicker Justin Rohrwasser. The Thundering Herd enters the game featuring a .857 winning percentage (12-2) in all NCAA-sanctioned bowl games, the highest mark nationally among programs that have made at least five appearances.

Linebacker Omari Cobb, tight end Armani Levias and offensive lineman Cain Madden were second-team All-Conference picks. Defensive End Darius Hodge and defensive back Nazeeh Johnson were honorable mention selections.

Keaton and defensive back Micah Abraham were part of the Conference USA All-Freshman team.

The Marshall football team will take a slight break from pre-bowl work on Saturday as the team takes part in its annual toy drive.

The drive will take place from 11 am-3 pm at the Barboursville Wal-Mart. 

The goal of the drive is to fill the Herd’s equipment truck with toys that will go towards kids in need in the tri-state area.

Toys collected will also be distributed in other parts of West Virginia and some will be taken by the team to Tampa next week to distribute to hospitalized children.