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Know USF’s foe: Marshall

The Thundering Herd, who face USF in the Gasparilla Bowl, arrive in Tampa with one of the nation's top run defenses.
Marshall's Tyre Brady (8) carries the ball against Florida International last month in Miami. [Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP]
Marshall's Tyre Brady (8) carries the ball against Florida International last month in Miami. [Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP]
Published Dec. 4, 2018

A look at Marshall, which plays USF in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 20 at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Thundering Herd
Record: 8-4 (6-2 in Conference USA)
Wins: at Miami (Ohio), 35-28; vs. Eastern Kentucky, 32-16; at Western Kentucky, 20-17; at Old Dominion, 42-20; vs. FAU, 31-7; vs. Charlotte, 30-13; vs. UTSA, 23-0; at FIU, 28-25
Losses: vs. N.C. State, 37-20; vs. Middle Tennessee, 34-24; at Southern Miss, 26-24; at Virginia Tech, 41-20
Coach: Doc Holliday (ninth season, 69-46)
S&P+ ranking: 49th

The breakdown: Barring a seismic philosophical shift from its run-first approach, USF's offensive struggles could continue in this game. Marshall enters with the nation's ninth-ranked run defense (103.9 ypg) and No. 23 defense overall (335.6 ypg), and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Additionally, its 39 sacks are tied for fifth-most in the country. Anchoring the unit is a veteran set of linebackers, including former Largo High star Frankie Hernandez (69 tackles, 6.5 for loss), a redshirt senior who lines up in the middle. He's flanked by redshirt senior Chase Hancock (team-best 98 tackles, six for loss) and junior Omari Cobb (60 tackles, 4.5 sacks). Up front, keep an eye on redshirt junior DE Ty Tyler, who has a team-best eight sacks. Offensively, the Herd average a modest 384.5 yards per game (80th nationally) but possess solid run-pass balance. Had Wharton High alumnus Chase Litton not chosen to forego his last season at Marshall, this game would've represented a glorious backyard collegiate finale for the lanky pocket passer. As it stands, Litton is a member of the Chiefs practice squad (after going undrafted), and 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman Isaiah Green runs the Herd offense. Green, who won the job in preseason camp, has posted decent numbers (2,238 passing yards, 15 TDs, 10 INTs) despite periods of injury and inconsistency. His most reliable target is Senior Bowl invitee Tyre Brady (66 catches, 914 yards, nine TDs), and he's complemented by four backs who have run for at least 250 yards.

Odds & ends: Holliday is 5-0 in bowl games as Marshall's coach. In fact, when the Gasparilla Bowl kicks off, Marshall will be three days shy of the 14th anniversary of its last bowl defeat. … Few bowl contests will feature more coaching connections than this one. Bulls coach Charlie Strong and Holliday worked together on Urban Meyer's staff at Florida from 2005-07. Additionally, USF defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin served two stints as a Marshall assistant under Holliday (2010, '13-16); and Bulls defensive ends coach Damon Cogdell lettered at linebacker at West Virginia in 1997 and '98, when Holliday was a Mountaineers assistant head coach. … The Herd roster features six former bay area prep standouts, including Hernandez and fellow former Largo star Brandon Drayton (47 tackles, two pass breakups). … Marshall went 11 consecutive games without allowing a first-quarter TD.