Heavy rain and thunderstorms hovered over Tampa for Thursday’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
It’s somewhat fitting, as USF has had a proverbial black cloud hover over them since their victory over UConn exactly two months ago.
Despite playing in their home stadium, the Bulls finish the season with six straight losses, as they were beaten decisively 38-20 in front the home fans at Raymond James Stadium.
Heading into the game, it was unknown whether USF quarterback Blake Barnett would start.
Shortly before kickoff, it was announced that backup Chris Oladokun would get the nod in place of Barnett.
However, after two drives, Bulls head coach Charlie Strong decided to insert Barnett.
Oladokun went 3-5 for 18 yards passing and two drives that ended in punts.
Marshall’s young signal-caller Isaiah Green has battled injuries of his own and competition from Alex Thomson to entrench himself as the Herd’s starter. He had one of the better games of his young career in the victory over USF.
Green looked sharp despite the less than ideal conditions, finding star wideout Tyre Brady for a 12-yard completion on a seven-play, 81-yard drive that would end in a Green 10-yard TD scamper to put Marshall on the board first.
Marshall’s quarterback would finish the night an efficient 17-25 for 221 yards and added 36 with his legs.
The ensuing drive was Barnett’s first of the evening.
As the rain intensified, an errant snap wasn’t able to be corralled by the South Florida quarterback and the ball was recovered by Marshall inside the USF two-yard line.
Anthony Anderson would take the next play into the endzone to put the Herd ahead by two scores.
When it looked like things would get completely out of hand for the hometown Bulls, USF offensive coordinator Justin Burke turned to the run game.
Freshman Johnny Ford had three carries for 29 yards on the six-play, 75-yard drive that would end in wide receiver Tyre McCants throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Randall St. Felix.
The Bulls’ defense has struggled throughout it’s six-game losing streak.
Tonight was no different.
Marshall marched down the field, with Green and Brady hooking up for a 42-yard completion to bring the Herd into South Florida territory.
Running back Brenden Knox, who’s been a find for Doc Holiday’s team after they were besieged by injures at the position, finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to put Marshall ahead 21-7.
Both teams would trade punts before USF drove from its own eight-yard line to the Marshall 28. However, that drive would stall on downs, as a Barnett pass on fourth and 15 would fall incomplete.
Keion Davis would be the second Marshall running back to find the endzone, as on the ensuing drive he scored from five yards out to make it a three-score game.
Strong has long been known as a run and play defense style of coach.
The home fans who attended the bowl game voiced their displeasure, as after USF drove 69 yards to get deep inside of Herd territory, he chose to send his field-goal unit out instead of going for it on forth down.
Coby Weiss would hit the field-goal from 22 yards, then add a 33-yard kick on their next drive to make it 28-13 Marshall.
After Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser was good from 28 yards coming out of the half, South Florida’s offense showed signs of life.
Barnett connected with St. Felix twice, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to bring USF within two scores. The Arizona State transfer has battled injuries throughout his first season as the Bulls’ quarterback and toughed out a gritty performance to end the year.
He finished the game 11-23 for 212 yards passing and one touchdown pass.
After again trading punts, Marshall would put together an 11-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. Davis would get in the endzone for the second time, finding the endzone from 16 yards out to put his team up 38-20.
Davis finished as the game’s leading rusher with 94 yards on 14 carries. Knox would finish right behind him with 93 yards.
Marshall held USF one last time and close out their season with a bowl victory, finishing their season with a record of 9-4, while USF closes at 7-6.