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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Jadarian Price shines, shows bright future for Irish backfield

The loss of running back Kyren Williams to the NFL Draft left a gaping hole in Notre Dame’s backfield. But Saturday’s Blue and Gold Game indicated the Irish may have the depth and talent to fill it.

Williams rushed for over one thousand yards in each of the past two seasons while also serving as a dynamic threat in the receiving game and a fierce pass blocker. It’s difficult to expect any single player to match that type of production, and the Irish will look to a combination of several members of their running back room to take on key roles on offense.

Junior Chris Tyree may absorb the lion’s share of the available carries. He split time with Williams during the last two years. Tyree started for the Gold team on Saturday but suffered a minor injury in the first quarter that knocked him out for the remainder of the game. The injury provided an opportunity for true freshman Jadarian Price, to claim a featured role in the backfield. With an increased role, Price took full advantage.

Even before Tyree went down, Irish running backs coach Deland McCullough, head coach for the Gold squad on the day, planned on utilizing Price frequently. McCullough selected Price highly in the draft that was used to divide the teams.

“It was shown in the draft what my thoughts were with him,” McCullough said after the game. “I thought [Price] was doing a great job during the spring. I wanted to see how he would respond being the primary guy.”

Irish freshman running back Jadarian Price cuts upfield during the Blue and Gold Game.
Irish freshman running back Jadarian Price cuts upfield during the Blue and Gold Game.

Price is a highly touted recruit from Denison, Texas. He seemingly made a strong impression on the Irish roster and coaching staff during spring practices, as his impressive play over the course of the fifteen practices was frequently alluded to after the game.

“He’s gonna be able to help us. We saw it from the very first spring practice,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said of Price. “He’s a guy that can make things happen.”

Quarterback Steve Angeli, a fellow freshman and early enrollee who has often worked with Price since their arrival in South Bend echoed similar sentiments while expressing how the connection that the two players have formed helped their Gold team earn a comeback victory in the game.

“[Price] has been turning a lot of heads,” Angeli said. “Whenever I needed to find a first down, I knew who I had to find. He’s a real workhorse and I can’t wait to see him keep going this year.”

Price describes himself as a “one cut” back who only needs “limited steps” to get going. However, he struggled to find breathing room in the first quarter, as did the rest of the Irish running backs. The Notre Dame defense was outstanding for both sides throughout the game. A wall of defenders frequently met Price before he could even get out of the backfield.

Price evidently grew into the game as McCullough, calling plays for the Gold team, started to involve him in the passing game. Early in the second quarter, Price caught a pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne behind the line of scrimmage and showed his elusiveness, picking up 19 yards. Over the remainder of the first half, he patiently waited for his blocks to develop and quickly changed speeds to burst through open holes.

Price’s breakout came in the second half when he teamed up with Angeli. McCullough inserted the freshman quarterback in the game after the break. With the Gold team trailing 10-0 during the opening possession of the third quarter, Price caught a screen pass and, following his blockers, took it to the house for a 51-yard touchdown. Price was quick to praise the coaching staff for preparing him for the moment as well as the offensive line for their impressive effort to make blocks down the field.

“We practiced that play a lot over the spring,” Price said. “Coach McCullough actually told me I was getting out a little slow. Seeing [offensive lineman] Zeke [Correll] and those guys right in front of me, I was like ‘man, open field.’”

After the game, Price described the feeling of scoring his first touchdown at Notre Dame Stadium in a game environment.

“Once I got into the end zone, I didn’t know what to do,” Price said. “I was like, ‘this really just happened.’ Seeing [my teammates] hype me up was amazing.”

Price would continue to be a major factor in the aerial attack during the fourth quarter. Trailing 10-7, the Gold team regained possession in the final minutes of the game. With the opposing defense continuing to stymie the team on the ground, Angeli found Price for three completions that totaled 30 yards and set the team up for Angeli’s game-winning touchdown run as time expired.

Price said of the clutch final drive and the spring preparation that led to it, “It was amazing. After practice, me and Steve would get a couple extra reps in and it showed on the field today.”

Price finished with a game-high 104 receiving yards on eight receptions, and he views his performance as both a culmination of the work he and his teammates have put in at practice and a sign of good things to come in the future.

“I’m glad that I had support behind me and pushing me along the way,” Price said. “I may be a young guy on this team, but I’m willing to do anything that needs to be done.”

Of course, when the season begins, Price will be battling for playing time with Tyree as well as talented sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. Despite the competition, Price credits the veteran backs for their role in helping him get where he is today.

“[The running back room] is super tight. It’s amazing,” Price said. “Diggs, Tyree, Audric, all of them. Every day, they give me tips, they’re always pushing me and holding me accountable for everything that I do. I love those guys.”

Filling Kyren Williams’ shoes will not be easy, and after the Blue and Gold teams combined for just 140 rushing yards on 41 carries, it is clear that much work remains to get the ground attack up to speed for the season. With four high-level players ready to contribute both on the ground and through the air, though, the Irish running backs appear to have a big season in store, which will be necessary for a team expected to be among the nation’s best. Despite being a freshman, Jadarian Price showed on Saturday a veteran-like readiness to contribute to that group.