USF 37, NIU 6: A sluggish first half gives way to a high-octane second in all phases.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002
TAMPA -- South Florida had the potent passing attack, Northern Illinois the relentless running game.
USF, the city school in Florida, put up 51 points last week. NIU, the farm school in the Midwest, scored 42 in its opener.
It was a clash of cultures and styles at Raymond James Stadium, a matter of who would outscore whom.
So naturally, instead it became a defensive battle -- a matter of who would outpunt whom -- until the Bulls finally erupted. USF scored four touchdowns, in a variety of manners, in 12-minute span of second half to demolish the Huskies 37-6, avenging a final-play, 20-17 loss at NIU last season.
"We were motivated by what happened at the end of the game last year, and the coaches were telling us all week in practice we had to shut their running game down," USF defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack said. "We had a quote from them in the paper from last year. They said we were tired in the fourth quarter, that we looked like we weren't ready to play.
"We wanted to make a difference this year, be fresh in the fourth quarter, and we made that difference."
USF (2-0), in front of a 23,599, extended its home winning streak to 15, tied for third-best in the nation with Toledo and Washington, and its overall winning streak to eight, second behind Miami's 24. NIU, 6-5 the past two seasons, pounded USF for 200 yards on the ground a year ago but was limited to 73 Saturday by a swarming front seven, particularly linebackers Devon Davis and Kawika Mitchell and tackles Jurineack and Greg Walls.
"The fact that we held them to 73 yards rushing, there's no question that was the key to the ballgame," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "Our goal was to keep them under 100 yards ... It's very difficult to stop their running game."
Davis, a freshman, had four tackles for loss, and Mitchell tallied a team-high 13 tackles, two for loss. USF had 15 tackles for loss.
"That front seven ... they packed it in with eight guys and we couldn't block them well enough," NIU coach Joe Novak said. "I saw some of our guys up front get their butts run over."
NIU (1-1) of the Mid-American Conference averted the shutout on a 24-yard pass on the game's final play, denying USF its first shutout since 2000.
A school-record 95-yard touchdown from Marquel Blackwell to DeAndrew Rubin with three minutes to go in the third made it 16-0 and gave the Bulls some breathing room.
The NIU defense was almost as good as USF's early. Blackwell (22-of-34, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions) struggled to find a rhythm, passing for 93 yards in the first half. USF was winning the field position battle, though, as punter Devin Sanderson proved more adept at pinning NIU deep in its territory than his counterpart, Jimmy Erwin. So did Blackwell.
A pooch kick by Blackwell was downed on the NIU 1 in the second quarter, and a Blackwell fumble in the third quarter forced NIU to start from its 1 again, resulting in a safety three plays later on an intentional grounding in the end zone, making it 9-0.
USF opened the scoring early in the second quarter. The teams traded multiple punts in the first, then the Bulls went 54 yards in eight plays, culminating in a 6-yard run by Clenton Crossley for a 7-0 lead.
USF had not lost in more than a year when scoring first and the last team to beat the Bulls when they scored first was NIU. USF led NIU 17-7 in the third quarter before the Huskies rallied to win on a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
NIU was hampered by the absence of running back Thomas Hammock, who ran for 177 yards against the Bulls last season and 172 in a 42-41 win over Wake Forest last week. Hammock was held out for undisclosed medical reasons, but he made the trip and wore his jersey on the sideline.
His replacement, Michael Turner, ran for more than 900 yards two seasons ago and did a good imitation of the rugged Hammock. He carried 19 times for 64 yards in the first half. The Bulls stymied him after intermission (10 carries, 2 yards) and the USF offense kicked in. After the safety made it 9-0, USF's John Miller partly blocked a 44-yard NIU field-goal attempt.
Two plays later, Blackwell rolled left and hit a streaking Rubin in stride. Rubin dashed straight up the left sideline and went 95 yards for a 16-0 lead.
On USF's next series, a 38-yard pass to Elgin Hicks put the Bulls in scoring position, and Rubin caught a 4-yarder from Blackwell to make it 24-0.
USF quickly tacked on two more scores. Rubin had a 55-yard punt return touchdown and cornerback Ron Hemingway had a 27-yard interception return.
The last time Northern Illinois was shut out in a half was 31 games and nearly three years ago, Sept. 18, 1999 in a 24-0 loss to Iowa.
Blackwell added 75 rushing yards, putting the senior over 1,000 for his career.