Illinois football blows out Wyoming 38-6 in Week 0 matchup

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Sydney Laput

Junior running back Chase Brown scores a touchdown at the end zone during the game against Wyoming on Saturday. The Illini won 38-6 for their first game of the season.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The football season officially began on Saturday for a hungry Illinois program, as it defeated the Wyoming Cowboys 38-6 on a sunny day in Champaign. 

An up-and-down day for fifth-year senior quarterback Tommy DeVito began with excellent field position on Illinois’ first drive, after a 43-yard return by senior kick returner Peyton Vining.

The Illini only needed 41 seconds and just two plays to score their first points of the new season, as star junior running back Chase Brown exploded for a 38-yard run on first down, then found himself wide open in the end zone for a 14-yard pass to put Illinois up 7-0.

“I’ve had a lot of good running backs in my career,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “(Brown) got an excellent understanding of how to play.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. and senior defensive lineman Calvin Avery were in the middle of the action on defense, as the Illini allowed just one first down on their first two defensive drives. Pressure from the defensive line led to inaccuracy from the Cowboy’s junior quarterback Andrew Peasley, and two punts.

“I feel confident in our room,” defensive lineman Johnny Newton said. “We were just really comfortable with what players were going to call … we just had to execute it.”

The Cowboys settled in on the second Illini drive as Brown got the ball on the first two plays once again but combined for a loss of two yards. On third and long, DeVito got the ball out just before pressure arrived, but sophomore tight end Tip Reiman was unable to haul in the pass, and the Illini sent the ball right back to Wyoming.

It took three drives, but sophomore receiver Isaiah Williams finally got the ball and made multiple cowboys miss, as the shifty playmaker managed to get 13 yards on a first-down screen.

Bielema kept the offense on the field for an early fourth-down situation, which Brown converted with a one-yard run. However, DeVito struggled to hit two open receivers, and junior kicker Caleb Griffin missed the ensuing field goal attempt, failing to extend the lead despite being inside the 30.

Avery continued to lock up the middle of the field for the Illini, so the Cowboys went outside. Two quarterback- keepers from Peasley got Wyoming into the redzone quickly. The Illini defense stood firm and forced a field goal late in the first quarter.

After punts from both teams, Brown immediately got the offense back into rhythm with back-to-back significant gains, and DeVito responded with two completions to junior receiver Brian Hightower. Brown capped off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, putting him over 100 yards in just the second quarter.

Junior defensive back Devon Witherspoon forced the first turnover of the season for the Illini, picking off Peasley, which he returned for 40 yards. The return gave Griffin his second chance of the day after the offense stalled, and he knocked a line drive through the posts from 27 yards out to give the Illini a two-touchdown lead.

“We just made the plays that came to us,” Witherspoon said. “Shout out to my D-line though, it all started up front. I’m so proud of those boys.”

The defense continued its strong performance with two stops to end the half, but the Illini could not overcome offensive penalties, and went into halftime, leading 17-3.

The Cowboys came out of the break with a more diverse play call than the first half, alternating runs and passes to get to the Illini 30 in four plays. They were held to just a field goal after multiple incompletions and brought themselves within 11.

Brown was stopped on both carries on the first drive of the half for the Illini, as the Cowboys seemed to have picked up on the play call from the first half, and got the ball right back after forcing a three-and-out.

After a punt from Wyoming, DeVito completed a pass on first down, a rare occurrence up to that point. After a Brown run and another pass, sophomore running back Josh McCray got his first solid work of the day with four consecutive carries for 23 yards. After the final carry, the back dropped to the ground and was helped off of the field by the medical staff.

Although he did not return, his efforts helped spark the drive that led to a touchdown after multiple Cowboy penalties positioned the Illini inside of the ten. DeVito then found sophomore receiver Pat Bryant outside the numbers for another touchdown.

With the third quarter winding down, the Cowboys felt the pressure of the scoreboard and began to pass the football. After two first downs, the Illini were able to force a fourth down and stuff the conversion attempt, turning the ball over.

With a comfortable lead, the Illini took their first shot of the game as DeVito found Bryant down the sideline for a 27-yard gain. DeVito then found Reiman for a 12-yard gain to put the Illini at the five-yard line and in position to score another touchdown. Brown punched it in on the first play of the fourth quarter for his third touchdown of the game, putting the Illini up 31-6.

The Illini’s second-string players took over the rest of the way as sophomore running back Reggie Love broke free for a 33-yard touchdown to extend the lead in the fourth quarter. Other than the touchdown, the play call turned conservative for both offenses, as the clock winded down with redshirt freshman Illini lineman TeRah Edwards falling on a fumble to officially put the game away.

“(Love) is a special kid. His journey … is one of perseverance,” Bielema said. “You just cheer for Reggie Love … to see him not give up … just another great story.”

Although the Illini got the win, there was much to improve before their first Big Ten matchup with Indiana. The defense was strong overall, with Randolph, Avery and Witherspoon making key plays throughout the game.

“There’s a lot of things we can clean up, but I thought offensively, from communication, the way they adjusted on the sideline, I thought Tommy really showed great composure, he’s a very accurate passer. He had some glitches today … things we can definitely clean up,” Bielema said. “Good football players are the result of good fundamentals.”

Next, Illinois will travel to Bloomington, Ind., for a Big Ten matchup with Indiana on Friday at 7 p.m. CT.

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