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NIU's top tailback Hammock sits out

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

TAMPA -- Minutes before Saturday's kickoff, Northern Illinois officials announced star running back Thomas Hammock would not play because of "very, very serious medical reasons," but provided no details.

The news shocked many because last week in a 42-41 overtime victory over Wake Forest, the senior rushed 38 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Hammock, who has consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and had 177 against USF last season, came in as the Mid-American Conference's No. 2 rusher and ranked No. 7 nationally this year.

Enter junior Michael Turner.

The Huskies wasted no time handing the ball to Turner, who in 2000 led the nation's freshmen with 983 yards, including two games in which he replaced Hammock and rushed for 511 yards.

In the first quarter Saturday night, Turner rushed on 12 of the Huskies' 16 offensive plays, gaining 49 of their 64 total yards.

CORNFED BOYS: From tackle to tackle, the Northern Illinois offensive line averages 6 feet 4, 300 pounds, giving it a little leverage against South Florida's defensive front, which averages 6-2, 270.

South Florida's offensive line, all from Florida, averages 6-3, 288.

IN THE LINEUP: USF had several changes. DeJuan Green started at running back in place of Clenton Crossley, and DeAndrew Rubin started at outside receiver in place of Elgin Hicks. Green, streaking uncovered down the middle, dropped a sure touchdown pass on the second-to-last play of the first quarter.

On defense, Maurice Tucker started at cornerback for Ron Hemingway, and freshman defensive end Terrence Royal started for Shurron Pierson. Tucker (ankle) and Rubin (hamstring) were coming back from injuries, though Rubin played Aug. 29 against Florida Atlantic and returned a punt for a touchdown. He also returned punts Saturday. Royal, from Wharton High, was making his first start.

BETTER COMPETITION: USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell had plenty of time to find receivers against FAU, going 27-for-39, but NIU made it clear early things would be tougher. Blackwell was forced to scramble on the third play from scrimmage and was sacked on third down on the first and second possessions. He was sacked again early in the second quarter, forcing the Bulls to punt.

HE'S BACK: Junior receiver Huey Whittaker, who set a school record with 52 receptions last season, missed the opener with a sprained MCL sustained in an Aug. 17 scrimmage. Whittaker entered on the second series and made his first catch, for 4 yards, a few plays later.

DROPSIES: Turner struggled to hold on to the ball. Late in the first quarter he fumbled on consecutive plays, and USF defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack scooped up the second one near midfield. His backup, A.J. Harris, also found the football slippery, fumbling early in the second quarter, and USF's Maurice Jones recovered.

-- SCOTT PURKS, PETE YOUNG

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