By midway through the first quarter today, his team had a two-touchdown lead; by midway through the third quarter, he was comfortable and assured, free-wheeling plays from the sideline; by the final few seconds, the students were chanting his name.

Without a doubt, Gerry Faust belongs at Notre Dame.

That was the only reservation today before the LSU game, the bottom-line question: can he coach? He has been all things to all people since being hired to replace Dan Devine Nov. 24: dynamic and daring, constantly in motion, a man clearly born with a heart AND a generator.

Faust dreamed of this day, prayed for it. And that is why both Notre Dame lovers and Notre Dame haters sense he will do very well here. Anyone who genuinely believes he can step from high school to the most demanding job in college sports probably is brilliant enough and obsessed enough to pull it off.

"He's crazy," said a Cincinnatian influential in his getting this job. "But I love him."

For Faust, rest is what happens between breaths -- and he seems to be working hard to make that as brief as possible. Words cannot wait to escape his lips. Because he has waited so long for this chance, he wants to experience as much as possible as quickly as possible; to cram years into months.

Friends have told him to slacken this killer pace. Incredulous, he says: "Slow down? I'm just getting started."

Alums have waved a drowsy, postmidnight bye-bye to Faust, and students, spending the night outdoors waiting for LSU tickets to go on sale, have awakened to his back-slaps and good cheer a few hours later. The day fall practice began he sent a dozen roses to his wife and one each to the wives of his assistants and the sports information director, thanking them in advance for a season of lonely sacrifice.

History may show Faust as the epitome of the breed, but most coaches are workaholics, delightfully eccentric, considerate and magnetic, moved in ways most of us will never fathom. If his teams are as tough and imaginative as today, the blend of Faust and Notre Dame will be memorable.

He is special now because his naive enthusiasm glows. Having not yet learned who is important and who is not, Faust gives himself to everyone. He burst into the postgame press conference today, clapping his hands and yelling: "Where's the air conditioning?"

Reveling in the euphoria the 27-9 rout provided, Faust started the session wondering if he should "say some things and then have you ask questions, 'cause this is my first press conference here." He said "thank you" after our typically incisive questions ("Were you nervous?") and bumped into a reporter who had spent the game with Faust's father.

His father, then a high school coach in Dayton, had stopped by Notre Dame on his honeymoon in 1934 and stood in the stadium tunnel here. Today, he admitted the experience had been "pretty awesome." Gerry was born about a year later.

The reporter who watched Fuzzy Faust watch his son's debut as Notre Dame coach said there were just two second-guesses the entire game. Gerry broke into a wider grin than usual.

"I know the ones," he said. "That pass near the half, and the one near the goal line."

Right.

The old man was nit-picking. Faust's offense is as much fun to watch as it is difficult to defend against. Backs shift one way and run the other; everybody plays; Notre Dame attacks in waves this year, using 48 players when LSU still was in the game in the first half.

The first two possessions, the Tigers had no idea where the Irish would run. But they did notice one tendency of Notre Dame: the ability to get into the end zone very quickly.

"LSWHO?" the crowd kept shouting.

Surprisingly on this dream day, Faust said his nerves behaved. "I was nervous, but not tight," he said. "There's a difference."

Faust is living the fantasy of every coach at every high school in the land, though the program he operated at Moeller in Cincinnati seemed depressingly close to professional at times. Still, what he did this morning showed how far Faust has come in a few months.

As a coach, Faust had never been on a major-college campus the day of a game. So he and some assistants borrowed a golf cart, got a guide and meandered everywhere anyone would want to here, soaking up the history, working the parking lots.

"Wanted to see all this so I could tell prospects what it's like," he said, admitting the practical aspects and then adding: "Once the cart ran into a tree and we had to lift it up and away."

In all, the pregame drive and the drive to victory had been better than he'd imagined.

"I had a great time," he said.

Like any coach, he was angry that Notre Dame was penalized 106 yards and joyous that that was 45 more yards than LSU got passing.

"What I was most proud of," he said, "is that most times we were able to get back the yards we lost on penalties."

Any coach on any level will appreciate that, and every college coach in America covets the talent Faust inherited and recruited. He said his major goal was to get everyone playing his proper position, and few from LSU would argue about that being accomplished.

The only time Faust did not immedately act like a seasoned college coach was when somebody asked him about Michigan's loss. That was to be his first heroic collision, and Wisconsin spoiled it. Never in his athletic life has the top-ranked team in the country been upset the week before playing him.

Faust bided for time, asking where the Michigan-Wisconsin game had been played, then got on track again and said: "They'll be ready for us, sky-high . . ."

Ara couldn't have said it better. And Dan never would have drawn the affection that flowed from the student section. He merely was successful here. Faust is divine.