CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The comparisons to March’s tournament game were aplenty heading into Thursday night, and the Illini shut them down quickly.
Relax Illini fans; you just witnessed a stress-free game against Chattanooga.
Behind career performances by Tommy DeVito and Pat Bryant, the Fighting Illini put together the most complete game of the season thus far, winning in dominant fashion over Chattanooga, 31-0.
“For four quarters, I thought we played a pretty complete game,” said head coach Bret Bielema in his postgame press conference.
On a brisk Thursday night at Memorial Stadium, Illinois (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) was firing on all cylinders right out of the gate.
Scoring started early for the Illini, as their first drive was only 86 seconds long. The 5-play, 64-yard drive resulted in a 9-yard touchdown run by Chase Brown.
This opening drive was reminiscent of the first touchdown drive of the season, where the Illini scored within the first minute of the game.
Once the Illini had the early lead, they never looked back. After the ensuing possession resulted in a turnover on downs, DeVito led the offense to three straight drives with points, including two touchdown passes.
Chattanooga (3-1, 1-0 Southern Conference) had no answer for DeVito, as he was in complete control in the first half, throwing for 249 yards and 2 TDs. His yardage total in the first half alone gave him a season-high, showing promising signs for what’s to come in Big Ten play.
“The more I’m around him, the more I’m very impressed with who he is and what he represents,” Bielema said.
DeVito finished his night with a 63-yard touchdown to Isaiah Williams in the third quarter, giving him 329 passing yards and three touchdown passes on the night. He was relieved by backup QB Art Sitkowski following that drive.
That long touchdown catch gave Williams 103 yards on 9 receptions, but he wasn’t the only one who took advantage of DeVito’s great performance. Fellow receiver Pat Bryant had himself quite a night as well.
“Us two together, we make a perfect combo,” Bryant said.
While he only recorded 6 catches for 98 yards in his freshman season with the Illini, Bryant turned a new leaf on Thursday. In the first quarter alone, he almost surpassed his freshman year total, catching 4 passes for 90 yards.
“We’re just scratching the surface of what [Bryant] is going to be,” Bielema said.
Despite having a 79-yard touchdown reception called back in the second quarter, Bryant caught a career-high 112 receiving yards on 6 catches. Bryant also caught one of DeVito’s three touchdown passes.
“I just go out there and let my abilities do their thing,” Bryant said. “I was just focused on the game and focused on scoring touchdowns.”
However, the offensive success wasn’t just through the air. Chase Brown rushed for over 100 yards again. He finished with 108 yards on 20 attempts and 1 touchdown — making him the first player in program history with five consecutive games of 100-plus yards rushing.
A DOMINANT DEFENSE
It wouldn’t have been a complete game without some incredible defensive play as well.
The defense was dominant early, with the Mocs taking nearly the whole first quarter to move the chains for the first time.
Chattanooga QB Preston Hutchinson fell victim to that defensive dominance. After FIVE total touchdowns last weekend against North Alabama, Hutchinson did a complete 180 against the Illini, completing 6-of-17 passes for a measly 49 yards and an interception.
Ryan Walters’ defensive line was swarming Hutchinson all game, sacking him four times and forcing mistake after mistake. Defensive lineman Keith Randolph had a fumble recovery after a stripped sack, which was shortly followed by a Quan Martin interception in the endzone.
The shutout was Illinois’ first since 2015.
“We’ve learned a lot about our team in these first four games,” Bielema said. “We’ve got a big month of football ahead of us.”
This is the first time since 2011 that Illinois has gone undefeated in non-conference play. Illinois ended up going to and winning a bowl game that season.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- After a strip sack by Seth Coleman went right into Keith Randolph’s hands, the defensive lineman didn’t get far before fumbling the ball back into the Moc’s possession. This play resulted in the only Illinois turnover of the day, keeping the score at 10-0.
- Early in the second quarter, the Mocs were in the midst of their first productive drive of the game before things turned south. Illini DB Quan Martin picked off Hutchinson in the endzone to stall another drive to keep the Mocs scoreless.
- Chattanooga missed a 43-yard field goal on their first drive of the second half. It ended up being the closest they got to scoring the entire game.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Quan Martin picks off Hutchinson after the Mocs get deep into Illinois territory.
DeVito finds tight end Michael Marchese for a 25-yard touchdown after a trick play.
Alex Palczewski started for the 56th time in his career, extending his Illinois record. Palczewski is three back of tying the Big Ten record of 59 set by Minnesota’s Connor Olson from 2016-21.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 23, 2022
The last time Illinois had a QB pass for 300+ yards: Brandon Peters 2019 @ Michigan State— Mihir Chavan (@MihirChavan_) September 23, 2022
The last time Illinois had a QB throw for 300+ yards and complete 74.2+% of his passes: Nathan Scheelhaase 2013 vs. Wisconsin
It’s been a while since #Illinois had a competent QB.
Tonight marks the first time in program history that the Illini have had a 100-yard rusher (Brown, 105) and two 100-yard receivers (Bryant, 112; Williams, 103) in the same game.#Illini— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 23, 2022
TWEET OF THE GAME
Brad is him.
Illinois will be heading to Madison to take on Wisconsin in their first Big Ten West matchup next Saturday, Oct. 1.
Kickoff will be at 11 a.m. CT on Big Ten Network.