Sep 20, 2012 11:55 PM by AP
Whenever Kenny Hilliard gets the ball, LSU coach Les Miles assumes he'll hear the pounding of pads and see a tackler taking a beating.
Miles marvels at the way Hilliard compacts his 6-foot, 230-pound frame as he gathers momentum, lowering his shoulder pads to the likely point of impact with a defender.
"That is probably as devastating to a would-be tackler as there is," Miles said. "A would-be tackler gets down low and Kenny has the ability to lower his pads into that guy and still bounce off. That's a great way to break a tackle."
Hilliard, who had his breakout game as a freshman last season against Auburn in Tiger Stadium, is currently the top running back for No. 2 LSU, which plays at Auburn this Saturday.
Hilliard is averaging 101 yards and has scored two touchdowns in each of LSU's first three games, making him the first Tiger in more than a decade to run for multiple touchdowns in three straight games. (LaBrandon Toefield last did it in 2001).
"I'm just trying to pick up what I did last year and continue to grow," Hilliard said. "Just continue to get better each and every week and just try to bust my tail for the team."
Hilliard entered his freshman season fourth on LSU's depth chart at running back, behind Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. When Ware, another bruising back, was suspended against Auburn last season, Hilliard got the call in short-yardage situations and rushed for 65 yards and two TDs on only 10 carries (6 1/2 yards per carry).
Miles started going back to Hilliard near the goal line and he finished his freshman season with eight rushing scores and one receiving TD.
"He's a guy that makes a great cut and takes it to the line of scrimmage with real aggression," Miles said. "So he would define a real quality short-yardage runner."
Blue, who opened the season as the starting running back, is out with a knee injury, which could mean more work for Hilliard.
When asked about how hard it is to tackle Hilliard, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, "Very, along with some of their other tailbacks."
"They are physical. They are downhill. That's what they practice. That's the way they run," Chizik added.
Now just three games into his sophomore season, the 20-year-old Hilliard has 15 career TDs, 35 short of the number his uncle, Dalton Hilliard, scored for LSU in the early 1980s before an NFL career with the New Orleans Saints.
It took Dalton Hilliard four seasons to score his 44 rushing and six receiving touchdowns. Kenny Hilliard will be eligible for the NFL draft after his junior season.
The younger Hilliard claims he's never thought about eclipsing his uncle's LSU stats, which also included 4,050 yards rushing.
"My goal is not to do that," Hilliard said. "My mind is not really on that. My mind is just on doing what I have to do for the team."
Dalton Hilliard, who made a Pro Bowl with the Saints, said if his nephew does not rack up the same numbers as he did, the main reason will have been that the Tigers have a handful of elite running backs sharing carries. Still, Kenny Hilliard more than likely has the NFL in his future, his uncle said.
"He's really a student of the game," the former Saints star said. "The more he plays, each year he's getting better and learning to use his talent, especially now being a more complete back than his first year. I expect that next year he'll improve even more."
Kenny Hilliard rushed for 8,603 yards and 106 TDs for Patterson (La.) High School. He showed up at LSU last year weighing nearly 240 pounds and figured his physical approach to running would be a perfect fit at LSU.
"That's what we mainly do here. We mainly pound the ball," he said.
This season, Hilliard has dropped his weight to a little under 230 pounds, he said, with the goal of finding more quickness and agility to go with his power.
Against Idaho last Saturday, he broke loose for a 71-yard touchdown.
"I was able to burst through that (first) tackle, and I just saw nothing but green grass and was able to outrun the defender," Hilliard said.
He has also scored from 38 yards out and added a 60-yard run against North Texas. His longer runs have helped him average 8.2 yards per carry through three games.
"He's got great vision ... runs with ball security, can make you miss but combines that with a physical brand of running," Miles said. "We think that he will continue to be a very positive contributor in this offense as we go forward."