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People were watching Gasparilla Bowl

December 21, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. - It’s just the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, right?

In the smorgasbord menu of 39 legitimate bowl games this was only the eighth of the season.

It was sort of an appetizer for the main course.

So, naturally, no one really important was paying much attention to this matchup between Conference USA’s Marshall University and the American Athletic Conference’s South Florida here Thursday night in Raymond James Stadium.

Right?

Uh, not so fast.

Just because it was a Group of Five matchup instead of a Power Five confrontation, it doesn’t mean Marshall vs. South Florida was flying under the radar.

Just the opposite.

As NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller wrote this week for the Bleacher Report, “Week 1 bowl games give players a huge chance to make an impact with scouts. Here are a few guys I’m guys I’m watching.

“Tight end Mitch Wilcox (South Florida), wide receiver Tyre Brady (Marshall), offensive tackle Ului Lapuaho (BYU) and linebacker Khalil Hodge (Buffalo).”

It’s called star power.

And, yes, the Gasparilla Bowl had some.

First, there was Brady. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound senior created a significant blip on the radar this season with 66 receptions for 914 yards (13.8 per catch) and nine touchdowns. But it wasn’t just the numbers, it was the way the Miami native created them.

His size, speed, athleticism and ability to make breath-taking, seemingly impossible catches in the end zone stamped him as a legitimate NFL prospect.

Brady flashed his ability with 8:31 remaining in the first quarter on a 12-yard catch down Marshall’s sideline to notch his 24th consecutive game with a reception.

Then, with 1:25 left in the first quarter Brady struck again with an outstanding catch on a 42-yard pass.

Then, there was South Florida’s Wilcox. There’s a reason the 6-5, 245-pound junior tight end was the Bulls’ only All-AAC first team selection. Besides, Wilcox’s 40 catches and 506 yards, he was a standout blocker and an inspiration to teammates with his toughness and determination to play hurt.

That’s why the Gasparilla Bowl might have been his last appearance in a Bulls’ uniform. Wilcox recently had his NFL Draft status “evaluated” and the feedback was favorable.

So, although the Gasparilla Bowl might have seemed somewhat meaningless on the surface, thanks to this star power it really wasn’t.

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY: The weather in Tampa poured such constant precipitation Wednesday and Thursday, it called for extraordinary measures at Raymond James Stadium.

The grounds crew had to cover the natural grass field Wednesday for only the seventh time in the 30-year history of the stadium. Ironically, it actually was the second time in 10 days that the field had to be covered.

It also was tarped before the Tampa Bay Bucs’ 28-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints in an NFL game on Dec. 9.

HELLO MOOKIE: True freshman walk-on running back Mookie Collier hadn’t played in a single Marshall game in the 2018 season.

Until Thursday night.

The Bluefield, West Virginia, native made his collegiate debut for Marshall on the punt return team against South Florida.

With 9:17 remaining in the first quarter, Collier realized the first game action of his career on a 45-yard punt by USF’s Trent Schneider and a 9-yard return by MU’s Marcel Williams.

What a memorable debut for the 2017 Kennedy Award winner.

SIX AND COUNTING: Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl is the sixth name for this game since 2006.

It began as the Magic Jack St. Petersburg Bowl. Next, it was the St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O’Brady’s. Then, it became the Beef 0′Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg. Remember the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl? That’s what it was next. Then, it was simply the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Phew.

That’s quite a list.

MU FIRSTS: When Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green raced 10 yards down the sideline into the end zone with 5:20 remaining in the first quarter, it was a significant achievement.

It was the first rushing touchdown of the redshirt freshman’s career.

Then, just 32 seconds later a high snap to USF quarterback Blake Barnett was fumbled and fielded by MU redshirt freshman Darius Hodge on one bounce. Then, the defensive end rumbled 29 yards to USF’s 1-yard line with the first fumble recovery of his career.

It set up a 1-yard TD plunge by MU’s Anthony Anderson.

And, finally, Marshall recorded a team-first by scoring more points in a quarter 21 than any school in Tampa/St. Pete bowl history.

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