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Illini show off complete package in Gopher beatdown

Illinois was great in nearly every phase on Saturday.

Another week, another Big Ten West opponent taken down by Bret Bielema and the Illini.

This one — a 26-14 victory over Minnesota on Homecoming weekend — felt like their most complete effort of the season outside of FCS Chatanooga.

Illinois made crucial plays throughout the day, Chase Brown’s historic season continued, the Illini defense made 6th-year senior Tanner Morgan look silly, and this nationally ranked Illini squad picked up another huge win that catapults them into the driver’s seat for a trip to Indianapolis in December.

Let’s break down exactly how good each unit was on Saturday.

Ankle injury no problem for DeVito

After questions surrounding his health all week, Tommy DeVito marched onto the field as the Illini’s starting quarterback and played a near flawless game.

He started the game completing his first 12 passes, which included a 40-yard touchdown pass to Chase Brown on a perfectly executed wheel route on the game’s opening drive.

The most impressive part of DeVito’s day was the number of crucial 3rd and 4th down throws he made to keep the Illini offense on the field.

I wish I could clip DeVito’s sidearm throw to Isaiah Williams on 4th and 6 in the first quarter because it was a work of art (first time YouTube has failed me all season).

Here’s a play I can include. This ball is behind Pat Bryant, but DeVito makes a quick throw on a 4th and 5 to move the chains on an eventual field goal drive:

Illinois was 4-for-4 on 4th down. Why stop when it keeps working?

How about stepping up and firing a dart to Bryant again right before getting hammered on 3rd down to avoid giving the Gophers the ball back for a chance at the lead:

Illinois has themselves a legit college quarterback: 25-of-32, 252 yards, and 2 total touchdowns (1 rushing) for DeVito on the afternoon.

Business as usual for Chase Brown

Chase Brown had his busiest day of the year and made the most of it. Nobody deserves this bye week more than the guy who had 41 carries against a physical Minnesota defense.

Brown turned those 41 carries into 180 rushing yards, padding his nation-leading total. He also added 3 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.

He didn’t break any long ones — his longest run of the day was only 17 yards — but he consistently got the Illini offense moving and provided a handful of chunk runs to spark drives, with help from an offensive line that has seemingly improved each week.

Here’s Chase’s longest run of the day, which came on an extremely important drive for the Illini after Minnesota had taken the lead out of the break:

We’ve seen how quick and elusive Brown can be from the moment he stepped on campus, but what has really elevated him from good to Heisman candidate-good is his patience.

Watch how he slows at the line of scrimmage and waits for a hole to develop before taking off and making a cut:

Chase Brown is currently on pace to break the single season rushing record in Illinois program history. Don’t take what he’s doing for granted.

Walters and Co. win the battle of top defenses

Coming into the week, Illinois and Minnesota’s defenses ranked 1st and 2nd nationally in both points and yards allowed. Contrary to Tommy DeVito and the Illini offense looking comfortable all day and gaining 472 total yards, Illinois’ defense refused to let the Gophers find a rhythm.

If you ignore the touchdown allowed from the 4-yard line following a 90-yard kickoff return by Minnesota to begin the second half, the Illini defense only allowed one sustained scoring drive all game.

Part of that was due to the offense possessing the ball for 40:04, probably refreshing for a defensive unit that has done a lot of heavy lifting this season.

Mo Ibrahim found a couple holes in the run game, but the Illinois secondary was sensational in completely shutting down Tanner Morgan and the Gopher passing attack. Morgan and his backup Athan Kaliakmanis combined to go 6-of18 for a measly 38 yards and 3 interceptions.

Kendall Smith pulled down an unbelievably impressive interception on this play, ranging from the other side of the field to steal the ball from Minnesota’s Michael Brown-Stephens:

Gabe Jacas’s presence on the edge as a true freshman has been truly remarkable. Here, he just flies around the tackle to get to Morgan for a sack, with the assist to the excellent downfield coverage:

Quan Martin practically seals the game with this pick, turning his head at the perfect time to make a play on the ball:

Make that 10 consecutive games with at least 1 interception by the Illinois defense. They continue to be one of the best units in America.

If everything’s clicking like it was on Saturday, this Illinois team is going to be tough to beat. Red zone issues and the occasional special teams blunder remain areas that need improvement, but Illinois has proven to this point that it’s a well-rounded football team.

With a savvy quarterback who continues to make big time throws, an All-American level running back who pumps out 100-yard games weekly, physical fronts that overpower their counterparts, and a ball-hawking secondary that gives opposing quarterbacks fits, it’s hard to find a weakness with Illinois right now.

May the most complete team win this beautiful division they call the Big Ten West, and that team just might be the Fighting Illini.