Cal State Northridge’s student newspaper discounts rumors that Marshall Faulk will gain 1,000 yards against the Matadors. Instead, the Daily Sundial predicts the Heisman Trophy candidate will run for a mere 500 yards.
It is Northridge’s Mission Impossible to stop Faulk on Saturday night at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in the opener for both teams. The Matadors do not want to be the team that allows the junior from San Diego State to regain his NCAA single-game rushing record.
Faulk set the record of 386 yards in 37 carries against Pacific in 1991. Two months later, Kansas tailback Tony Sands broke the mark, gaining 396 yards in 58 carries against Missouri.
Though Faulk said he won’t be shooting for the record, he promised to “give his darndest” to enable the Aztecs to win.
Faulk’s darndest could make the Matadors see red, according to Northridge defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
“I really feel they’ll do what they can to embarrass us,” Banker said. “You’re looking at a Heisman Trophy candidate who wants to lead Division I in rushing for the third straight year. You’re looking at a (coaching) staff that wants to show their population that they are for real. They need a convincing victory. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t if they don’t win by 80 points.”
Faulk already hinted he might stay in the game even if San Diego State builds a large lead.
“It’s the coaches’ decision,” Faulk said. “I wouldn’t say it’s rolling up the numbers, it’s working on offense. If we go ahead by 30-some points, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take me out because maybe it means we haven’t worked on some aspects of the offense.”
Banker is determined to focus on Faulk but not at the expense of the rest of the Aztec offense, including preseason All-American wide receiver Darnay Scott, quarterback David Lowery and wide receiver Keith Williams.
“We have to concentrate on Faulk,” Banker said. “I’m sure he’d like to rip off 300, 400 or 500 yards. He’s kinda like (Michael) Jordan is to the Bulls, he’s gonna get his yards. We want to minimize the long gains, but at the same time we don’t want their 10 other guys to beat us. It’s a monumental task.”
If Banker clogs the line of scrimmage with seven players, his defense is vulnerable to the deep pass. And even with the defensive line and the linebackers concentrating on run defense, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Faulk is difficult to stop.
“With a runner like that you don’t want him running north and south, so you take away the inside gaps,” Banker said. “But you don’t want him turning the corner so you have to squeeze him back inside. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Although Banker has seen Faulk play the past two years, the film breakdown of Faulk’s game-by-game efforts, totaling 1,630 yards last season, convinced him that Faulk is even better than advertised.
“He has great speed,” Banker said. “And at the same time he isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and run into a pile.”
Faulk’s forays through the Northridge defense start at the Matador defensive line, which gives up an average of 30 pounds to the Aztec offensive line.
“It’ll be the best offensive line we’ll see this season,” Northridge defensive line coach Dennis McConnaughy said. “We have to be disciplined on the draw play. We have to take away the inside gaps. We don’t want to get washed outside. We have to work our way back in and see it (the draw) coming.”
But even if they know it is coming, Faulk is a load to bring down. He has rushed for more than 3,000 yards in two seasons by making tacklers miss, by outrunning them and by running over them.
Faced with such strength and elusiveness, Northridge’s linebackers have to try to wrap Faulk up tight. The danger--Faulk running wild in the Northridge secondary--was evident last season when he peeled off runs of more than 50 yards against USC, Brigham Young, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Northridge, a first-year Division I-AA team with 80 players and 17 scholarships (San Diego State has 88 scholarships), could easily join the list of teams burned by the 1992 Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“Great backs get theirs,” Northridge defensive backs coach LeRoy Irvin said. “It’ll be something our defensive backs have never seen before. He’s faster than anyone they’ve ever played against. So we have to be great tacklers. There’ll be times in the game when we have to make touchdown-saving tackles.”
Like several Northridge players, cornerback Vincent Johnson is torn between respecting Faulk and not wanting to appear intimidated by him.
“I really don’t have plans on him being loose in the secondary . . . but I know he’ll get loose . . . it’s just like preparing for anybody else,” Johnson said. “It probably won’t hit me until we get down there and see that big stadium.”
It hit Northridge linebackers O.J. Ojomoh and Patrick Johnson on a recent visit to the San Diego State campus. Wearing their Northridge football T-shirts, they were goaded by Aztec students promising a Faulk field day.
“They look at CSUN and they say CSUN can’t compete with San Diego State,” Ojomoh said. “But it doesn’t matter how small the team is, it matters how big the heart is.”
Ojomoh, an intense competitor who missed last season because of academic ineligibility, can’t wait to face off with Faulk.
“I’m not scared of nobody,” he said. “I’m ready to play anybody, even NFL guys. It’s exciting to play a well-known person like Marshall Faulk. If you do a good job against him, people will notice.”
The hype surrounding Faulk is so intense that Ojomoh and his teammates have been warned against making a fundamental mistake and allowing a breakaway run simply because it is expected.
Banker believes fear is a positive emotion in this case because players who are afraid to fail play harder. To him, the bottom line won’t be the final score.
“If we give ourselves a chance to win, that will go further than if we try to stop a guy who will get his due,” Banker said. “We want to show people great effort and fundamentally sound football, and who knows? We could get lucky and beat them. The biggest thing for our guys is to play hard.”
Regardless of the outcome, the Matadors will have something to remember. Barring injury, Faulk probably will have a high-profile NFL career.
“Our players can tell their kids that they played against him,” McConnaughy said.
Defensive lineman Victor Myles calls it an honor just to be on the same field with Faulk.
“Coming from a lower division school, anything we do to stop him or slow him down is a compliment to us,” Myles said. “It’s the biggest game in Northridge history and I like being part of history.”
In describing his approach to Faulk, cornerback Ralph Henderson is uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
“Much has been said about him,” Henderson said. “What can I say? As far as the nation is concerned, he’s The Man.”