Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 34 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2022 35 GAME PREVIEW: MARSHALL 1. A Big Missing Piece Marshall could come to Notre Dame Sta- dium without its centerpiece on offense. Sophomore running back Rasheen Ali, who led the country in rushing touchdowns last year, took an indefinite leave of absence in late August. Head coach Charles Huff said Ali would be away for "some time." Ali rushed for 1,401 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns. The Cleveland na- tive won Marshall's starting job at running back after a redshirt year in 2020. He was a big reason why the Thundering Herd were among the top 30 nationally in third- and fourth-and-short run play conversion rate and rushing stuff rate with an offensive line that rated as average in other important rushing metrics. Ex-Florida State running back Khalan Laborn is expected to start while Ali is out. The former five-star recruit is a sixth-year senior who was a graduate transfer this offseason. He has 63 carries for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns in his career. He was dismissed from Florida State's football team in 2020 for a violation of team rules but remained at the university as a stu- dent and earned his degree. 2. Recent Success And A New Chapter The Thundering Herd has turned itself into a perennial bowl team in the last decade-plus. Last year was their eighth postseason trip in the past nine seasons and 10th since 2009. They returned to the Football Bowl Subdivi- sion in 1997 after a 15-year stint in the Football Championship Series (then Division I-AA) and immediately reached seven bowl games in eight seasons. The height of that run was a 33-8 stretch from 2013-15, which included a 13-1 season in 2014. That year also the school's most recent conference title. Marshall parted ways with 11-year head coach Doc Holliday after the 2020 season despite an 85-54 career record and 7-3 mark that year. It hired Alabama running backs coach Charles Huff to replace him. Huff went 7-6 in his first season. The 39-year-old Huff is not only tasked with sustaining Holliday's success but doing it as the program changes its league affiliation. Marshall's switch from Conference USA to the Sun Belt became official this summer, a year earlier than initially expected when it announced the move in October 2021. The school sued Conference USA — along with fellow defectors Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi — in hopes of moving the timeline up a year. The parties reached a settlement in March that allowed the three schools an early exit this summer. 3. New Faces Aplenty Marshall's roster went through considerable turnover between Huff's first and second sea- sons. The Thundering Herd are 96th in ESPN college football analyst Bill Connelly's return- ing production rankings. They're No. 105 in returning production on offense and No. 90 on defense. Among the losses was two-year starting quarterback Grant Wells, who trans- ferred to Virginia Tech. The transfer portal helped Huff fill plenty of holes. Marshall brought in 16 Division I transfers, including nine from Power Five schools. Three were from Florida State: Laborn, redshirt freshman safety Jadarius Green-McKnight and redshirt freshman wide receiver Bryan Robinson. Sixth-year senior quarterback Henry Colombi transferred from Texas Tech this offseason and is Marshall's starter. He threw for 1,291 yards with 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while completing 64.4 percent of his passes last year. — Patrick Engel we use that as an example because you never know when your opportunity is going to come." Florida State transfer Khalan Laborn has been eyeing his opportunity for a while. A former five-star recruit from Virginia Beach (Va.) Catholic, Laborn was the No. 3 running back recruit in the class of 2017 per the On3 Consen- sus Ratings. Now he's a backup running back at Marshall who hasn't recorded a collegiate carry since 2019. Laborn redshirted as a true freshman. He missed all of 2018 with a dislocated kneecap. He was the Seminoles' backup in 2019 and ran 63 times for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then he was dis- missed from the program for a violation of team rules. One of the best recruits in his class, a prospect with offers from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State among others, had less than 300 rushing yards to show for himself in three years. A less-pressurized fit at Marshall and a head coach in Huff who spent two sea- sons as Alabama's running backs coach in 2019 and 2020 might be just what Laborn needs to reach his full potential. The Ali ordeal, although devastating for the program in general, might motivate him to succeed, too. Laborn had a promising lead-in to the 2022 season even when Ali was in the picture. According to Huff, he broke three tackles and took the first play of a mid-August scrimmage 80 yards to the end zone. "To see him start like that was fun," Colombi said. "I was looking to the sideline because I thought it was going to be second-and-5, and then he breaks down the sideline." Marshall isn't going to beat Notre Dame without big plays. But it's going to have to play stout defense, too. The Thundering Herd allowed 36.2 points per game in their six losses last season. That figure would have been tied with Rice for the No. 120 spot in the nation as a season-long average. The three tackles Laborn broke on his scrimmage scamper? Those have to be made against the likes of Notre Dame running backs Chris Tyree, Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Easier said than done. Taking down the Irish in their home opener is difficult, but it isn't impos- sible. Just ask Kelly, who will forever be one game away from an unblemished home opener record while at Notre Dame. Freeman has a strong chance to start his own streak. ✦ Sophomore running back Rasheen Ali, who rushed for 1,401 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, took a voluntary and indefinite leave of absence from the team in late August. PHOTO COURTESY MARSHALL ATHLETICS Three Things To Know About Marshall

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