CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Now that’s how you get revenge.
After a shaky start, Illinois completely turned the game around, handling Virginia in a 24-3 blowout on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Just a year ago, Illinois (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) went into Charlottesville and was dominated in every fashion in a 42-14 loss. However, the Illini flipped the script on Saturday, and the big story was the defense.
The score does not tell the whole story, though.
Early miscues similar to the ones that plagued them in last weekend’s loss at Indiana showed up again, as the offense committed two turnovers in the first 2:11 of the game.
Fortunately, those turnovers did not come back to haunt the Illini. Ryan Walters’ defense built off its success from last weekend, holding Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC) to only 3 points in its first two possessions — both starting in Illinois territory.
After a fourth straight Illini possession yielded in no points to start the game, a Hugh Robertson punt deep into Virginia territory resulted in a fumble recovery for an Illini touchdown.
This boost from the special teams seemed to jumpstart the Illinois offense. Tommy DeVito threw two touchdowns in the next 6 minutes, giving Illinois a commanding 21-3 lead early in the second quarter.
“We’re kind of a do-your-job type group,” said head coach Bret Bielema.
The score would stay the same until a 23-yard field goal by Caleb Griffin extended the lead to 24-3 in the third quarter. From then on, the score would not change.
While the offense committed a season-high four turnovers and Griffin missed two field goals, it did not seem to matter.
The defense dominated the game from start to finish and it began with the pressure on Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong. What’s shocking about this is how the Illini defense shut down Armstrong after his breakout 2021 campaign.
In last year’s matchup, Armstrong had a field day against the Illini defense, throwing for a whopping 405 yards and 5 TDs.
This time was drastically different.
The gritty, swarming Illinois defense limited Armstrong to 13-for-32 (41% completion) for 180 passing yards and two interceptions, with many of those completions and yards coming in garbage time. The completion percentage and passing yards on the game were career lows for Armstrong as a starter.
“It’s just another great indicator of how much growth we’ve had in a year,” Bielema said.
Offensive struggles for Virginia didn’t just start with Armstrong either. The team had eight 3-and-outs and were 1-for-16 on third down, as their failure to execute reflected a lot on what Ryan Walters has improved from last year’s defensive squad.
“I don’t know during my career if I’ve ever felt as good about my two coordinators,” Bielema said. “It’s special to work with these guys.”
Although repeated offensive mistakes prevented the Illini from running up the score, the defense showed out, which is all that mattered in Saturday’s win.
In the long run, the Illini will want to fix those mistakes heading into Big Ten play.
But for now, it’s time to relax after a hard-fought win.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- The special teams unit scored its first touchdown of the season (and of the game) on a punt that went deep into Virginia territory. Sydney Brown delivered a big hit to knock the ball loose and Matthew Bailey fell on it in the endzone.
- DeVito completed his longest pass so far in an Illini uniform to receiver Pat Bryant on a 42-yard long ball in the second quarter. The following play led to an Illini touchdown, which made the score 21-3.
- Caleb Griffin’s kicking struggles continue as he missed a pair of field goals. He’s 4-for-8 now on this season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
DeVito finds sixth-year player Michael Marchese for his first-career touchdown catch.
- Chase Brown is the 19th player in program history to rush for more than 2,000 yards as an Illini. Against the Hoos, he rushed for 146 yards on 20 attempts. Brown leads the NCAA with 496 rushing yards on the season.
Brown is the 19th player in program history to rush for 2000 yards in an Illini uniform. https://t.co/vmOAHt9yLu— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 10, 2022
- This win marked the Illini’s first non-conference Power 5 win since 2011 — the last season in which the Illini won a bowl game.
TWEET OF THE GAME
The Champaign Room has obtained this video from the Virginia sideline today of Brennan Armstrong talking with his offensive coaches pic.twitter.com/4yCTUthtFu— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) September 10, 2022
The Illini will be on a bye next week, but will play Chattanooga on Thursday, Sept. 22 at Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.