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2019 Gasparilla Bowl Preview: Marshall vs. UCF

Marshall faces a tall task slowing down the high octane Knights in a battle of former conference foes in Tampa.

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl - Marshall v South Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Date/Time: Monday, December 23rd – 2:30 PM EST kickoff

Location: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida

TV/Streaming: ESPN (Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer, Lauren Sisler)

Spread/OU: UCF -17, O/U 61.5

In the 2018 rendition of the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, Doc Holliday’s Marshall Thundering Herd rolled to a 38-20 victory over a struggling South Florida Bulls team that had lost its final five regular season contests. This season, the task of going back-to-back as bowl champions is much more daunting, as the green machine will welcome the self-proclaimed 2017 national champion UCF Knights to the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.

Despite opening this contest as a 17-point underdog, make no mistake: Marshall is still a program that has won six of its past seven games. In spite of an unexpected loss to the Charlotte 49ers in late November, the Thundering Herd have notched five of their eight wins in 2019 against bowl participating programs, including those over 8-4 rival Western Kentucky and C-USA champion Florida Atlantic.

NCAA Football: Gasparilla Bowl-Marshall vs South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The method for the madness in the Marshall attack rises and falls with Conference USA Most Valuable Player and leading rusher Brenden Knox. His yardage total is the eighth-best in program history and 16th-best among all FBS players this season with 1,284 amounted from scrimmage to go with 11 touchdowns. Former Miami (FL) head coach Randy Shannon leads the Knights defensive unit to stop Knox, fronted by first team All-AAC safety Richie Grant and senior linebacker Nate Evans.

The team ranked 34th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 344.8 yards per game, and 38th in scoring defense, giving up 22.8 points per contest. The hope for Marshall remains in sustaining meaningful drives in this football game, which will come from establishing the run and continuing Knox’ success, seeing as he doesn’t hit a roadblock in front of him. Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green may be forced to utilize the pass more than preferred, which could lead to turnovers and unforeseen miscues.

All-conference linebackers Tavante Beckett and Omari Cobb lead a Marshall defense that will face a UCF Knights passing attack led by thrilling freshman sensation Dillon Gabriel, but is fueled by his top target, junior wide receiver Gabriel Davis. Davis had five games of 100 or more receiving yards on the season, four of which came in consecutive games, which is tied for the second longest streak by a UCF receiver. He ranks eighth in the nation in receiving touchdowns and fifth in receiving yards.

This will be the 12th overall meeting between Central Florida and Marshall, with the Knights holding a commanding 8-3 advantage all-time. In both the MAC and the C-USA, these programs shared conference ties from 2002-2012, before UCF left to join the newly formed American league in 2013.

PREDICTION

Despite holding eight wins to their name this year and a 6-0 postseason record all-time under Doc Holliday, Marshall has struggled to truly dominate anyone late in 2019. Coinciding, UCF hung 48 on Florida Atlantic, 45 on a down-year Stanford team, and 63 on a Temple squad that won eight games. All the metrics and analytics point towards this being a decisive Knights victory, and although I believe Brenden Knox could have a decent day, this one’s more than likely over before it even starts.

UCF 38, Marshall 17