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MU helped by USF suspensions

December 25, 2018

Welcome to “Second Guess” Tuesday.

’Tis time to unwrap the opinionated presents.

• Want to know at least one reason the University of South Florida looked so unprepared and overmatched during a 38-20 loss to Marshall University in the Gasparilla Bowl?

It’s because Bulls head coach Charlie Strong suspended 11 players prior to the bowl game. Nearly half of the suspended players were contributors.

“Eleven USF players, including three receivers and two tailbacks, were suspended from Thursday night’s Gasparilla Bowl against Marshall,” wrote Joey Knight in Saturday editions of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.

“Additionally, as many as four Bulls assistant coaches are expected to be dismissed, a source indicated Saturday.”

Strong was quoted by Times columnist Martin Fennelly as saying, “I’m telling you right now, we’re going to clean up this whole program. A lot of guys will be leaving. We need a good washing.”

The suspended list included wide receiver Darnell Salomon, 6-foot-3, 207-pund junior, who started four games and caught 25 passes for 440 yards (17.6 per reception) and four touchdowns.

Then, there’s running back Duran Bell, 5-10, 174-pound redshirt freshman, who rushed for 148 yards and a TD on 28 carries (5.3 yards per attempt). He ranked fifth on the Bulls in total offense. Bell was once offered a scholarship by Marshall.

Another suspended contributor was Deangelo Antoine, 5-10, 188-pound junior, who had shifted from wideout to safety. He played in 11 games and ranked second on the team in kickoff returns with 12 for an average of 17.4 yards.

Also, Naytron Culpepper, 6-1, 175-pound sophomore defensive back, played in South Florida’s final four regular-season games. But he already had announced he was transferring prior to being suspended.

The list also included defensive tackle Brandon Boyce, 6-6, 257-pound junior, who was credited with 24 tackles in five games.

The remainder of the suspended players included wide-out DeVontres Dukes, 6-4, 210, sophomore; running back Elijah Mack, 6-0, 214, sophomore; defensive back Donelle Thomas, 5-11, 193 sophomore; defensive tackle Armon Williams, 6-3, 285, freshman; defensive lineman Marquies Price, 6-6, 257, senior; and offensive lineman Jeremiah Stafford, 6-4, 320, redshirt freshman.

All eleven players were suspended for unspecified violations of team rules, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

So, just imagine the mindset of South Florida’s players after having 11 teammates suspended prior to the bowl game. Think they were locked in mentally? Think they were focused with this turmoil swirling around them?

It’s very doubtful.

Now, would Marshall still have beaten USF without this handicap?

I think so.

But I don’t believe it would have been as one-sided or that Marshall’s running game would have been so overwhelming. It was easy for South Florida to give up and throw in the towel, under the circumstances.

Does that diminish Marshall’s bowl victory?

Not one iota.

But it does explain why the game was so one-sided with the Herd rolling up 503 yards total offense, including 282 yards rushing to USF’s 92.

As for the direction of South Florida’s program now?

Charlie Strong is being Charlie Strong again.

• Conference USA rallied nicely in bowl season.

After North Texas and Middle Tennessee opened with a pair of woefully lopsided defeats, UAB, Marshall, FIU and Louisiana Tech ripped off four consecutive wins.

That leaves C-USA with a 4-2 record.

But that is slightly tainted by the fact C-USA’s bowl opponents actually outscored C-USA teams 29.3 points to 27.8. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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