CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Chase Brown is already making an early case for the Heisman.
Led by Brown’s 151 rushing yards and his three total touchdowns, Illinois started Bret Bielema’s second season with a 38-6 Week 0 victory over Wyoming on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Coming into the season, there were many questions about this Illini squad — running back Chase Brown was definitely not one of them. From the first snap, he showed everyone why.
The Illini got off to a red hot start going up 7-0 only 41 seconds into the game, aided by a 38-yard run by Brown and a Tommy DeVito 14-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
Brown’s offensive dominance continued in the second quarter, capping off a 6-play, 59-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, extending the Illini’s lead to 14-3.
“He’s just really patient,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “He’s playing at a really high level.”
His superb first-half performance helped him reach a historic milestone.
“Lunney was going to put us in position to make plays and that’s exactly what happened today,” Brown said.
Helping Brown in the backfield, DeVito made his first start at quarterback for Illinois after transferring from Syracuse. The senior threw for two touchdowns, going 27-37 with 192 passing yards.
“I really liked Tommy’s composure,” said Bielema. “I loved his preparation.”
DeVito’s star running back concurs with Bielema.
“I think Tommy had a great day,” Brown said. “He looked comfortable back there.”
His second touchdown was to sophomore wide receiver Pat Bryant — his first-career touchdown catch.
“I liked [DeVito’s] demeanor, Barry has done a tremendous job with him,” said Bielema.
Although DeVito and Brown led the offense to the win, Ryan Walters’ defense carried over last year’s success.
Illinois’ defense performed especially well in the second quarter when defensive back Devon Witherspoon intercepted Peasley, weaving back-and forth through would-be tacklers for a 40-yard return.
Wyoming did not complete a single pass in the first quarter, and the Illini defense held the Cowboys to only 30 passing yards on the game. This 30-yard mark is the best performance by an Illinois defense in years.
“It’s just complimentary football,” DeVito said. “They trust us as much as we trust them.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- New kicker Caleb Griffin missed two first-half field goals. He will need to make those in crunch time during Big Ten season.
- Chase Brown rushed for a third score to open the fourth quarter and put the game away.
- Joshua McCray and Isaiah Williams both left the game due to injury in a 5-play span in the third quarter. Williams left the field on his own while McCray needed assistance. Bielema said after the game he had no updates on McCray, but said Williams could have played by the end of the game if needed.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Devon Witherspoon with the first Illini interception of the season.
Tommy DeVito finds receiver Pat Bryant for six.
- The opening drive for the Illini (41 seconds) was the second-fastest opening drive in the Big Ten in a season opener since 2015.
- Chase Brown became the 19th running back in Illini history to rush for more than 2,000 career yards. He also became the first Illini player since AJ Jenkins in 2011 to have three scores in a game (excluding quarterbacks).
TWEET OF THE GAME
Illinois opens up its Big Ten schedule next Friday night at Indiana.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on FS1.