CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Chase Brown became the first running back from Illinois to rush for 100-plus yards in five straight games, Tommy DeVito passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns and the Fighting Illini shut out Chattanooga 31-0 on Thursday night.
Illinois improved to 3-1 and is off to its best start since 2015.
“I think we’re just beginning to understand who we are,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “I really like the way this group works.”
Brown capped a five-play, 64-yard scoring drive with a 9-yard touchdown run after the defense forced Chattanooga (3-1) to go 3-and-out on their first drive.
He finished with 108 rushing yards on 20 carries and currently leads all FBS running backs with 604 yards in four games.
The closest the Mocs came to scoring was early in the second quarter when they got to the Illinois 16-yard line. Jartavius Martin intercepted a Preston Hutchinson pass in the end zone to end the Mocs threat and preserve a 10-0 lead.
“You can’t do that, I don’t care who you play against,” Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said. “You have to throw the ball, Second and 10, there it is and we are going to play. That bothered me, I’m not going to lie.”
The Illini posted their first shutout since a 2015 victory over Western Illinois.
“The sky’s the limit on this defense, man,” Martin said.
“Coach (Ryan) Walters came in and made a great standard for our defense,” he added.
Chattanooga was just 4-for-14 on third downs and gained 142 total yards. Illinois amassed 502 yards of offense.
Hutchinson was sacked four times and completed just 6 of 18 passes for 49 yards with two interceptions.
Illinois nearly quadrupled Chattanooga’s first-half total yards, 332 yards to 84 yards, and led 24-0 at halftime.
“I love blocking for Chase Brown,” Illinois center Alex Pihlstrom said. “I know he can make a cut at any time and he can score at any time.”
Thursday night marked the first time in Illinois football history that two receivers had more than 100 receiving yards and a running back rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game. Pat Bryant caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, while Isaiah Williams caught nine passes for 103 yards and a score.
Williams’ 63-yard touchdown pass on a screen pass made it 31-0 with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
DeVito became the first Illinois quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards in a game since Brandon Peters threw for 369 yards at Michigan State in 2019.
Ailym Ford rattled off runs of 39 and 32 yards for the Mocs’ biggest gains of the night. He finished with 93 yards on 17 carries.
Andrew Southard missed a 43-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter after Ford’s 32-yard run carried the Mocs into Illini territory.
“We got hit tonight,” Wright said. “We are a beaten team right now. We’re going to need these two extra days. I love this soccer team. I think we have the opportunity to be a good football team.”
Caleb Griffin kicked a 34-yard field goal to put Illinois up 10-0 in the first quarter.
THE TO GO
Illinois: The Illini prepared well for a better-than-usual FCS opponent and dominated accordingly to put themselves in good position to make a bowl appearance with two-thirds of the schedule remaining. Illinois is a step or two away from competing in a wide-open Big Ten West thanks to a stellar defense and a much-improved passing game with new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. calling the shots.
Chattanooga: Mocs can attribute this to the talent gap and the short break after a strong start to the campaign. Rusty Wright’s group could be in contention for the Southern Conference title in November.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Chattanooga: The Mocs visit East Tennessee on October 1.
Illinois: Bielema returns to his old home field when the Illini play Wisconsin on Oct. 1.