By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001
Northern Illinois plays like a traditional Big Ten team, with a no frills, I-formation, we're-coming-right-at-you offense. And it is good.
The Huskies, 6-5 last season and third in the Mid-American Conference's West division, are the first of eight Division I-A teams on USF's schedule. In 2000, NIU set school records for points per game (37.2) and total offense per game (427.8). It ranked 12th in the nation with 228.1 rushing yards a game.
The Huskies pound the ball with a big offensive line that returns three starters and averages 6-4, 303 pounds. In contrast, USF's starting defensive front averages 268 pounds.
Two running backs -- 215-pounders -- share the load: junior Thomas Hammock (215 carries, 1,083 yards, 5.0 avg., 16 touchdowns last season) and sophomore Michael Turner (200 carries, 983 yards, 4.9 avg., 7 TDs). Senior quarterback Chris Finlen, entering his third year as a starter, completed 131 of 231 passes for 1,857 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The question mark is the Huskies' 4-3 defense, which returns four starters from an inconsistent unit. NIU yielded 503 yards to Eastern Michigan and 561 to Toledo but held Central Florida to 331 in a 40-20 win.
NIU played two games against power-conference bowl teams last season, losing at Northwestern 35-17 and at Auburn 31-14.
This is South Florida's first Thursday game.
As a fire-breathing, run-stuffing, 235-pound middle linebacker for Hernando High, Chris Daley lived for delivering the crunching hit. He amassed school-record tackle totals at the school that produced NFL legend Jerome Brown.
Daley will need to call on his prowess against the run again tonight. A 6-2, 255-pound defensive end, Daley is part of the first line of defense against Northern Illinois' bludgeoning running game.
Daley, who played infrequently his first season and a half, but didn't redshirt, earned a starting position for the final five games of 2000. He finished with 20 tackles (four for losses) and his first career sack.
Inertia will be working against Daley tonight. He will be at a 65-pound disadvantage as he is matched up with 6-7, 320-pound NIU right tackle Mark Orszula.
Every town likes to be known for something, and DeKalb, Ill., home of Northern Illinois University, boasts two well-known, disparate products.
DeKalb, population 39,018, located 65 miles west of Chicago, is supermodel Cindy Crawford's hometown. Also, it is known as the "Barb City" -- not because it is enamored with Barbra Streisand but because barbed wire was invented there.
The Huskies have a significant experience advantage at running back.
Northern Illinois' top returning rushers, Thomas Hammock and Michael Turner, combined for 415 carries for 2,086 yards (5.0 avg.) and 23 touchdowns last season.
USF's top returning pair, Derrick Rackard and Vince Brewer, combined for 31 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown.
"We really haven't played a team that runs the ball like this. They've got some really big linemen and they really try to stuff it down everybody's throat, no matter who they play." -- USF outside linebacker Kawika Mitchell.
-- Compiled by Pete Young.