Faulk Is Still Looking to Make His Point : Freedom Bowl: San Diego State freshman back wants to show Tulsa tonight that his exploits have been no fluke.
Surprising though it may seem, freshman phenom Marshall Faulk believes he has something to prove when San Diego State meets Tulsa in the Freedom Bowl tonight at 6 at Anaheim Stadium.
It would be hard to find anything left for Faulk to accomplish in this finale to one of the greatest freshman seasons in the history of college football. He already has become the first freshman to lead the nation in scoring and rushing and the third to be named to the Associated Press All-American team.
Nevertheless, Faulk believes there still are some doubters, and he is determined to convince them that he is for real.
After the Aztecs (8-3-1) wrapped up preparations for the school’s first bowl appearance in five years, Faulk looked ahead to the challenge of facing a nationally ranked opponent. Tulsa (9-2) finished 23rd in AP’s pre-bowl poll.
“This is my first bowl game, and I want to make an impression,” Faulk said. “I want to let the people know that making All-American was no fluke.”
Make an impression? As far as Coach David Rader and his Tulsa players are concerned, that happened months ago. They made it clear in pregame discussions of the Aztecs’ boundless offensive assets that the man they fear most is Faulk.
Rader said: “Even with their explosive passing game, their running game with Faulk is so good that they could hand off all night long, the game would go fast and they would win. How do you stop the guy?”
Nobody came forth with an answer, not even linebacker Mike White, Tulsa’s all-time leading tackler with 389 stops and its runaway leader this year with 132.
Said White: “I doubt if anybody has the ability to make people miss and break a play like Faulk does. What’s surprising about him is that he has all those moves at this stage of his career.”
Asked how the Golden Hurricane might contain Faulk, White said: “We have to do it by swarming to the ball. If we have to depend on one person stopping him, we’ll be in for a long night.”
White also noted that Faulk’s backup, Wayne Pittman, another freshman, “does the same job when he goes in.”
Faulk began the season as the Aztecs’ second-string running back, but when starter T.C. Wright suffered a bruised thigh late in the first quarter of the second game, Faulk got his chance. He immediately made headlines by gaining a record 386 yards and scoring a record seven touchdowns.
For the season, Faulk rushed for 1,429 yards--a 7.1-yard average--and 21 touchdowns, scored two more touchdowns on pass receptions and broke or tied 13 NCAA records. To complete an almost unbelievable story, Faulk did all this despite missing 3 1/2 games with injuries.
Pittman, true to what White said about him, topped 100 yards in all three games in which he filled in for Faulk. Pittman finished the season with 606 yards.
It’s interesting that Faulk should emerge as the premier ground gainer in the country on a team that traditionally has lived by the pass.
This is not to say, though, that the Aztecs have shoved their passing game onto the back burner. Sophomore David Lowery threw for 2,575 yards and 19 touchdowns and was named the team’s most valuable player.
Predictably, San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill said: “We like to establish our running game first.”
But with Lowery available, along with a fine corps of receivers, led by Patrick Rowe, Luginbill isn’t at all reluctant to pass.
The same can be said of Tulsa’s Rader, who has a first-rate passer in T.J. Rubley and an outstanding long-ball receiver in Chris Penn.
Rader, however, leans more to the run than Luginbill and insists that the suspension of star tailback Chris Hughley for academic reasons won’t alter his game plan. Hughley rushed for 1,342 yards, and Ron Jackson, who will replace him, gained 689.
Kidding about his preference for a ground game, Rader said: “We’ll pass on the first play, and if that works, we may pass again.”
Actually, Rubley has passed 260 times (to Lowery’s 311) for 2,054 yards. And because San Diego State’s defensive backs have been burned with relative frequency, Tulsa may be tempted to call more passes than usual.
However, injuries have been part of the problem in the Aztec secondary, and Luginbill said: “Our defense is healthy at the back end for the first time since early in the season. We’re a different football team now.”
Defensive coordinator Barry Lamb added: “It’s a matter of depth. We just haven’t reached the point where our quality players are backed up by quality players.”
Lamb cited Penn, who averaged 21.4 yards per catch, as the biggest problem for the Aztec defense. “They do a good job of moving Penn around,” Lamb said. “He always seems to end up with the ball in his hands.”
Luginbill also expressed concern about the size of Tulsa’s offensive line, which is anchored by All-American guard Jerry Ostroski at 305 pounds and averages 276. The Aztecs’ three down linemen average 250.
“We’d better stop their running game before it gets started,” Luginbill said. “Their line swing reminds me of old single-wing football. They come off the line like a mowing machine.”