Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

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

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Page 35 of 55

36 SEPT. 10, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: MARSHALL BY TODD D. BURLAGE MARSHALL RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The running game is an area that was supposed to be the overriding strength for the Thundering Herd, but it took a severe hit about two weeks before the season opener when star sophomore tailback Rasheen Ali took an indefinite leave of absence from the team. No reason for Ali's unexpected departure was provided. Ali, a first-team All-Conference USA honoree last season, led the league in rushing yards per game (107.8) and finished second in total rushing yards (1,401). He also tied for first in the nation with 23 rushing touchdowns. Marshall left Conference USA after last season and will play in the Sun Belt Conference in 2022. Ali's absence left sophomore running back Ethan Payne — 20 carries for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns — as the team's leading returning rusher from 2021. Florida State graduate transfer Khalan Laborn is expected to start during Ali's absence. A former five-star recruit from the class of 2017, Laborn hasn't appeared in a game since 2019. For Notre Dame, questions at linebacker remain after the graduation of three-year starter and team captain Drew White. But with plenty of returned depth and experience at the position, the Irish coaches feel good about absorbing the loss of White. Senior linebacker JD Bertrand is back after lead- ing the team with 101 stops last year, and he's flanked by senior Marist Liufau, a gifted player who missed all of 2021 with a broken ankle. Behind these two starters there's also a sub pack- age that should make this unit deeper and better than last year's, and it also should allow Bertrand to take some snaps off, something he was rarely able to do last season. Senior rover Jack Kiser is also back as a strong run defender after posting 45 tackles in 2021. Graduate student Bo Bauer recorded 47 tackles (4 for loss) last year. If the Irish linebackers break down, senior All- America safety Brandon Joseph is a sure tackler in the Notre Dame secondary. Advantage: Notre Dame MARSHALL PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE After a close battle for starting quarterback duties through fall camp, redshirt senior Henry Colombi won the opening-day job over redshirt freshman Cam Fancher. Colombi, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech, made seven appearances and five starts for the Red Raiders last season. He completed 95 of 148 passes for 1,291 yards with 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Marshall receivers Corey Gammage, Shadeed Ahmed and Talik Keaton form a solid group of returnees to go with Florida State transfer Bryan Robinson. Gammage led the team with 78 catches and 869 receiving yards last season. The Marshall offensive line returns two starters and fills its other three spots with transfers and unproven players. For Notre Dame, quarterback pressure will be vital to success this season, and that begins with All-American defensive end Isaiah Foskey. The Irish senior recorded 12.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 7 quarterback hurries and 6 forced fumbles last season. Quality play in Notre Dame's defensive second- ary will again be worth watching for the second straight week with Marshall's talented receiving crew. All eyes will be on Irish senior cornerback Cam Hart and graduate student cornerback TaRiq Bracy at a position that remained tenuous through training camp. As a team in 2021, Notre Dame finished 14th in the country with 15 interceptions, 12th with 3.15 sacks per game, and 23rd in passing efficiency defense (120.6 rating). Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. MARSHALL RUN DEFENSE What was thought in the spring to be one of the deepest position groups on the Irish became thinned out this preseason when sophomore Lo- gan Diggs underwent shoulder surgery and fresh- man Jadarian Price was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Diggs was cleared for full contact during the final week of camp, and should be ready to increase his workload each game. Chris Tyree is expected to be the featured tail- back in the Irish offense this season. The speedy junior rushed for 222 yards and 1 touchdown on 56 carries last season. Though, Tyree's production in 2021 slipped some from 2020 when as a true freshman he tallied 496 yards on 73 carries with 4 touchdowns. Tyree also managed only three runs of 10 yards or more last season after recording 15 such "explo- sive" carries in 2020. Bruising sophomore tailback Audric Estime was terrific in camp and remains a nice change of pace from Tyree, and he is also a terrific short-yardage and goal line option. That said, Estime begins this season unproven with only 7 career carries. Tyree On PaPer Graduate transfer Henry Colombi, who passed for 1,291 yards with 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions at Texas Tech last year, won Marshall's starting quarterback job. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS TECH

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