It feels like Illini football! It was a crisp 60 degree Fall night, “Block I” sold out, and the Illini are 3-1 for the first time since 2015. For a Thursday night game vs an FCS program Memorial Stadium was rockin’. That atmosphere paved the way for an incredible performance. The Illini offense exploded to the tune of 502 yardswhile the defense did what they do, holding Chattanooga to a measly 142 yards.
Defense Wasn’t The Only Thing Cookin’ In Champaign
Illinois’ offense was pedal to the metal all night. They opened up the playbook and stretched the field. Chase Brown did his thing and Tommy DeVito finally let it rip a bit. If last night was any indicator of what this offense can do in the vertical passing game then maybe the Illini really do have a shot at the west. DeVito hit 9 different receivers before calling it a night after the third quarter. He has been great all year distributing the wealth, but last night he did it with purpose. The Illini quarterback threw for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns on 23-31 passing. That is exactly the night Illinois needed to see from QB1.
His biggest beneficiary was WR Pat Bryant. The sophomore receiver had his coming out party last night totaling six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. Bryant also had a 79 yard touchdown called back in the first quarter. Isaiah Williams had himself a night, tallying 103 yards on 9 grabs including a 63 yard touchdown. Michael Marchese found the endzone again on a 25 yard flea flicker.
Chase Brown had the slowest production night of the season so far… “Only” running for 108 yards and one touchdown that opened up the scoring for Illinois. Another ho-hum performance and it’s about time someone puts him on the Heisman watch. The Junior running back is now up to 604 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the year.
Ho-Hum, Ho-Hum Goes The Illini Defense
Picking up where they left off two weeks ago, it was another clinic put on by the illinois defense. The front seven play as technically sound as any unit in the Big Ten while the defensive backfield, anchored by Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon, has been a relentless, ball-hawking group.
The pass defense continued it’s dominance giving up only 49 passing yards. Sophomore DL Keith Randolph Jr and Senior DB Jartavius Martin accounted for two interceptions. The Illini kept Chattanooga’s senior quarterback on the run with constant pressure — they ended the night with four sacks.
Chattanooga essentially called it a night in the fourth quarter and ran the clock out. This inflated their rushing numbers (93) on the night. 39 of those yards came midway through the second quarter right before Illini DB Jatavius Martin picked off quarterback Preston Hutchinson in the corner of the endzone thwarting their only redzone threat.
This blue collar, high-flying defensive group showed out in non-conference play this season and tonight was a microcosm of that. Their 7.25 points allowed is good enough for 8th in the country currently and the biggest reason Illinois ended non-conference play undefeated for the first time since 2011.
Historic Night For The Fighting Illini
A win at home in front of Dick Butkus to close out the non-conference schedule is nice. It’s even nicer to pitch a shutout while having a night for the history books on offense.
Tonight was the first night in Illini Football history in which Illinois had a 100 yard rusher and two 100 yard receivers. Chase Brown’s 100 yard night was his fifth consecutive game doing such, also an Illini record.
Illinois will head to Head Coach Bret Bielema’s old stomping grounds to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. Playing Thursday night this week allows for a mini bye week to get some extra rest and preparation in. Beating Wisconsin would be a major step in contending for the West division this year.
Wisconsin slipped up in week two against Washington State and defense travels well in hostile environments. I’m going to call my shot early and say Brett walks out of his homecoming as the victor.