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Marshall running back Rasheen Ali (center) celebrates with Shadeed Ahmed (left) and Barry Campbell following a touchdown against East Carolina on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

HUNTINGTON — Saturday’s game ended in disappointment for Marshall, but the Thundering Herd did get some clarity at a key position group during the contest with East Carolina.

Running back Rasheen Ali had a breakthrough performance, showing that he was a cut above the rest of the Herd’s backs — literally.

Ali finished with 189 yards rushing on 24 carries with three touchdowns, two of which came in highlight-reel fashion as Ali showed his elusiveness.

“That’s been Rasheen Ali from day one,” Marshall coach Charles Huff said. “I told you guys in the preseason, I think he could be a draft pick.

“As he continues to play more football around here, he’s going to get better.”

Ali is making a major impact in his first season getting meaningful repetitions for the Herd. Ali is tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns (seven) and total touchdowns (eight) while placing in the top 30 in FBS in rushing yards per game at 97.7.

Prior to the East Carolina matchup, Ali said the next step in his growth was the patience to allow his blocks to develop before attacking instead of just running blindly before his linemen could develop a play.

As the contest with East Carolina moved forward, so too did Ali’s presence with the game slowing down for him a bit and natural ability and vision taking over.

Ali had three touchdown runs, two of which were lengthy in which Ali’s vision and playmaking ability shined through.

With Marshall trailing in the second quarter, Ali took a handoff on the left side and patiently allowed the play to develop, which put him in one-on-one tackling situations.

East Carolina was left begging on the play as Ali cut to the outside to avoid a linebacker before a hesitation and burst past a bad angle by an East Carolina safety sprung him for a 26-yard score that gave the Herd a lead.

At that point, Ali was just getting warmed up.

In the third quarter, Ali took a handoff and again made a jump-cut to the outside of a would-be tackler before racing 49 yards to the house, showing both his shiftiness and his acceleration in the open field.

“All week, I was telling myself in my head before the snap, ‘Be patient. Pad level. Be consistent,’” Ali said. “That was running through my head the whole game.”

Ali also showed his versatility as a back, breaking a 29-yard run in which he bounced outside before going through the tackles on the next play for a 21-yard jaunt in which he carried tacklers the final 5 yards.

“I felt like throughout the game, I get stronger,” Ali said. “As the momentum goes on, I felt like I just had to keep going for my team because we needed the extra yards and the first downs to keep the clock rolling.”

While Ali and the team were disappointed with the result, he and Huff were both pleased to get the rushing attack going. Marshall ran for 214 yards in the loss and averaged 5.9 yards per carry, both big improvements.

“The O-line did a really good job,” Huff said. “You guys [media] said last week the O-line couldn’t run block. They did a pretty good job tonight and he ran it hard — something to build off of.”

Ali said the team’s first loss this season provided plenty of teaching tools, which will help him in the future as well.

This week, Marshall goes against an Appalachian State defense that has allowed just 109 yards rushing per game.

“I just want this to be a learning lesson for our team,” Ali said. “We can just put it into the game that’s coming up Thursday.”

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch, who also covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.