Kevin Faulk is a master of escape. Out of the backfield, the
junior tailback uses his 4.4 speed to burst around ends and past
linebackers. On punt returns he darts through cracks in the
coverage in the style of Desmond Howard. Fact is, the only thing
Faulk can't leave behind is the same question he has encountered
for years: Are you related to Marshall Faulk?
"That still comes up," he says. "Ever since I was in high school
[in Carencro, La., 121 miles northwest of New Orleans], people
have wanted to know my connection with Marshall Faulk--as if I
can't have my own name."
The day before this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans, Kevin
finally came face-to-face with Marshall, the Indianapolis Colts'
running back and a New Orleans native, to whom he is not, as far
as he knows, even distantly related. "And you know what he
said?" recalls Kevin, giggling. "That people ask him if he's
related to me. Believe that?"
Well, yeah. The best Faulk carrying the ball this fall could be
Kevin, a Heisman Trophy candidate who rushed for 1,282 yards and
13 touchdowns last season, lifting surprising LSU to a 10-2
record. "Our goal is to win it all," he says. "We have
everything we had last year, but this time there's experience
behind it. We're a mature team now. In the past, maybe we didn't
know how to handle pressure. No more. This year, we come ready."
In addition to Faulk, the Tigers can line up three explosive
runners behind junior quarterback Herb Tyler. Rondell Mealey, an
All-SEC freshman last season (603 yards, 10 touchdowns), should
get a chunk of the action, while coach Gerry DiNardo must also
find time for junior Kendall Cleveland and redshirt freshman
Cecil Collins, a schoolboy All-America from nearby Leesville,
La. Whether Tyler, who last season passed for 1,688 yards and
seven touchdowns but also threw eight interceptions, can be more
consistent in his second year as a full-time starter may not be
as crucial as it seems. This offense will score.
On defense DiNardo has eight starters back from a unit that
ranked a disappointing sixth in the conference. The best of the
bunch may be sophomore free safety Mark Roman, a 6-foot,
185-pound glue stick who stepped into the starting lineup after
one game and finished the season with four interceptions. The
Tigers are strong up front, with 274-pound senior Chuck Wiley
(93 tackles, six sacks last season) and 290-pound junior Anthony
McFarland (63 tackles) providing beef at the tackle slots. "We
need those guys to be physical," DiNardo says. "They throw a lot
in this league, but sooner or later teams are going to try and
mash you. Our defense has to be ready to fight against the
Realistically, if the M*A*S*H unit holds firm and Faulk
continues his reign of offensive terror, the Brooklyn-born
DiNardo should be able to handle the rest. Since coming to Baton
Rouge in December 1994, he has gone 17-6-1, restored LSU's
football reputation and made himself one of the nation's hottest
sideline gurus. His direct manner wore thin with some
administrators at Vanderbilt, his previous stop, where he went
18-26 over four seasons. (Expect few hugs when the Tigers travel
to Nashville on Oct. 4. DiNardo recently lost a lawsuit in which
Vanderbilt argued successfully that he owed it more than
$280,000 for breaking his contract.) "I wouldn't want to play
for anyone else," says Faulk. "We believe in him. We believe
that we're going places. People will talk about LSU this year."
COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/ALLSPORT THE BEST FAULK IN FOOTBALL THIS SEASON COULD BE THE ONE MAKING A HEISMAN RUN [Kevin Faulk in game]
11-0 The Tigers' record when All-America junior tailback Kevin
Faulk rushes for 100 yards or more.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
OCT. 11 VS. FLORIDA Does LSU have what it takes to become the
new SEC power? A win over the Gators would make a statement.
NOV. 8 AT ALABAMA The Tigers were shut out 26-0 a year ago. It
will be even tougher for LSU to win in Tuscaloosa.
Passing Herb Tyler Jr. 109 comp., 187 att.,
1,688 yds.,7 TDs
Rushing Kevin Faulk Jr. 1,282 yds., 13 TDs
Receiving Larry Foster Soph. 26 catches, 446 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles DT Chuck Wiley Sr. 93
Interceptions FS Mark Roman Soph. 4