Illinois dominates Virginia 24-3 in revenge game, remains undefeated at home


Sidney Malone

Sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Williams stiff arms Virginia defender to ground. Illinois dominated Virginia in blowout fashion, 24-3.

By Conor Blount, Staff Writer

Coming off of a disappointing away loss to Indiana, Illinois returned home to face the Virginia Cavaliers (1-0).

The last time these two met was nearly a year ago to the day on September 11th, 2021 in Charlottesville, VA. In that outing, the Illini were defeated in embarrassing fashion with a final score of 42-14. This year, Illinois hoped to see a different result at home.

Illinois took the field for their opening drive after Virginia elected to start on defense. Despite junior running back Chase Brown opening up the game with a 13-yard rush, Virginia quickly got the ball as senior quarterback Tommy DeVito threw a deep interception on Illinois’ second play of the game.

After a fumble from Brown, Virginia started their second drive on Illinois’ 32-yard line but could not take full advantage of the Illinois turnover and ended up converting on a 42-yard field goal.

A few drives later, Illinois had seemingly come up empty once again as they lined up to punt the ball back to Virginia. But momentum would quickly shift in favor of the Illini as senior defensive back Sydney Brown forced a fumble, recovered by freshman Matthew Bailey for a touchdown.

The Illinois defense went to work on the ensuing drive, forcing Virginia to punt after a quick three-and-out drive. The punt was returned by Williams to the Illinois 43-yard line. DeVito later found senior tight end Michael Marchese wide open on a wheel route down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown.

After forcing yet another three-and-out for Virginia, Williams flashed his speed on the return as he got all the way to Virginia’s 20-yard line. However, the effort was called back due to an illegal block in the back which pushed the Illini all the way back to their own 31-yard line.

This substantial loss in yardage was quickly rectified as just a few plays later DeVito connected on a 43-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Pat Bryant, putting Illinois at Virginia’s two-yard line. On the next play, DeVito connected with sophomore tight end Tip Reiman for Illinois’ third touchdown of the game.

On the next Illinois drive, after making several substantial gains starting from their four-yard line to Virginia’s 23-yard line, it looked like Illinois was primed to score again. However, after a completion from DeVito to Bryant, sophomore safety Jonas Sanker forced a fumble at Virginia’s one-yard line that was returned by junior cornerback Fentrell Cyprus II to the five-yard line.

After multiple failed drives, it seemed like the Cavaliers were ready to get some points on the board as they marched it down the field into Illinois territory. After an incompletion on third and three on Illinois’ 26-yard line, Virginia elected to go for it on fourth down, picking up the first down on a quick pass. However, after being held to fourth and ten on the next set of downs, Virginia came up empty-handed as their 41-yard field goal attempt bounced off the right upright.

A few drives later, junior defensive lineman Jahmeer Carter slipped through the Illinois offensive line, sacking DeVito. The play resulted in a fumble recovered by Carter at Illinois’ 45-yard line.

Despite the ideal positioning for Virginia, Illinois’ defense came up big again, forcing a turnover on downs as the Cavaliers failed to convert on fourth and two on the Illinois 37-yard line.Championing a 21-3 lead going into the half and showing no sign of stopping, the game was Illinois’ to lose.

After starting their drive at Virginia’s 48-yard line, Illinois was held to fourth and two on their first set of downs. After opting to attempt a fourth down conversion, Illinois ran a quick pitch to Brown, picking up more than enough yardage to keep the drive alive.

On Illinois’ two consecutive drives, Illinois was held to a 31-yard field goal, missing wide left, and a 23-yard field goal, going through the uprights.

A pair of sacks by freshman outside linebacker Gabe Jacas and sophomore defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton ensured Virginia had yet another wasted drive.

“Jacas is a guy that we thought he could be something special on the edge,” Bielema said. “(Bailey)’s got a special feel to him.”

Early into the fourth, Virginia had managed to string together a couple of successful plays before being faced with fourth and six at the Illinois 39-yard line.

With only so many drives remaining for the Cavaliers, Virginia was forced to attempt a fourth down conversion if they wanted any chance of a comeback. This desperation culminated in a reckless pass intercepted by freshman defensive back Matthew Bailey after being broken up by sophomore Taz Nicholson.

To close out the game, the Illinois defense stuffed Virginia at the goal line, denying Virginia the chance for any last-second points.

Illinois finished with 397 total yards, with an even balance of 196 passing yards and 201 rushing yards. They managed to almost even out the turnover battle at three forced and four committed, despite their first two drives ending in turnovers.

DeVito touted an impressive 196 passing yards on 17 for 25 attempts. Meanwhile, Brown led Illinois in rushing yards with 146 on 20 carries.

Brown cemented himself in Illini history, becoming the 19th player in school history to rush for 2,000 yards. Brown has rushed for over 100 yards in five of his last six games.

The Illinois defense held Virginia to just 42 rushing yards, 180 yards receiving and 2-20 on third and fourth down conversions, making sure they left the 2021 Virginia game in Charlottesville in the past.

“What they did to us a year ago, it was embarrassing,” Bielema said. “We weren’t clean on everything, but we played good football.”

With the win tonight, Illinois moves to 2-1 on the season with a bye next week, giving them much-deserved rest. Illinois will be back in action against Chattanooga at home on September 22nd, hoping to continue their momentum before their Big Ten conference games.



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