CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Chase Brown became the first Illinois running back to rush for 100-plus yards in five straight games, Tommy DeVito passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns and the Fighting Illini blanked 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 defence forced Chattanooga (3-1) into a three-and-out on its first drive.
He finished with 108 rushing yards on 20 carries and currently leads all FBS rushers with 604 yards through four games.
The closest the Mocs came to scoring came early in the second quarter when they drove to the Illinois 16-yard line. Jartavius Martin picked off 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’re playing against,” Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said. “You’ve got to throw the ball away, Second-and-10, it’s right there and we go play. That pissed me off, not going to lie.”
The Illini recorded their first shutout since a 2015 win over Western Illinois.
“The sky’s the limit for this defence, man,” Martin said.
“Coach (Ryan) Walters came in and made a great standard for our defence,” he added. “Just believing in us as a unit, we believe in him and know he’s going to put us in the right (play) call.”
Chattanooga went just 4 of 14 on third downs and gained 142 total yards. Illinois piled up 502 yards of offence.
Hutchinson was sacked four times and completed just 6 of 18 passes for 49 yards with two interceptions.
Illinois nearly quadrupled Chattanooga’s total first-half yardage, 332 yards to 84 yards, and led 24-0 at intermission.
“I love blocking for Chase Brown,” Illinois center Alex Pihlstrom said. “I know he can make a cut anytime and he can score anytime.”
Thursday night marked the first time in Illinois football history that two receivers tallied more than 100 receiving yards and a running back ran for more than 100 yards in the same game. Pat Bryant caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, while Isaiah Williams hauled in nine passes for 103 yards and a score.
Williams’ 63-yard touchdown off 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 took the Mocs into Illini territory.
“We got beat up tonight,” Wright said. “We’re a beat-up crew right now. We’re going to need these extra couple days. Love this football team. I think we have an 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.
Illinois: The Illini prepared well for a better-than-usual FCS opponent and dominated accordingly to set themselves up in good position to make a bowl appearance with two-thirds of the schedule left. Illinois is a step or two away from contending in a wide-open Big Ten West thanks to stellar defence and a much improved passing attack with new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. making the calls.
Chattanooga: The Mocs can chalk this one up to talent differential and short rest after a strong start to their campaign. Rusty Wright’s group could be in the mix for the Southern Conference title in November.
Chattanooga: The Mocs visit East Tennessee State on Oct. 1.
Illinois: Bielema returns to his old stamping grounds when the Illini play at Wisconsin on Oct. 1.