Illinois aims to finish nonconference play undefeated

Senior+defensive+back+Tailon+Leitzsey+attempts+to+run+past+a+Wyoming+opponent+during+the+game+on+Saturday.+

James Hoeck

Senior defensive back Tailon Leitzsey attempts to run past a Wyoming opponent during the game on Saturday.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois hosts the Chattanooga Mocs on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium before traveling to one of their biggest challenges of the season in Madison, Wisc. Chattanooga, who is 3-0 on the season, holds wins over Wofford, Eastern Illinois and North Alabama.

Despite their FCS status, head coach Bret Bielema knows better than to underestimate their potential, especially after seeing his in-state rival Northwestern fall against Southern Illinois. 

“It’s a constant reminder that anyone … can get anyone,” Bielema said. “It really comes down to how the two teams perform on Saturday.”

“I don’t know if our guys would say FCS – I know I haven’t said it,” Bielema said. “We respect all, fear none.”

The Mocs are ranked No. 10 in the FCS and have many key contributors on both sides of the ball. Chattanooga quarterback Preston Hutchinson is dangerous in space, running for 80 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the 2022 season. In front of him are numerous Power Five caliber offensive linemen, of which McClendon Curtis and Colin Truett lead the way with each having over 20+ starts under their belt.

Illinois currently has the fifteenth best-scoring defense in the nation, holding all their opponents to an average of 10.67 points, which is on par with some of AP-ranked opponents like Oklahoma and Miami (Florida). 

On the defensive side, the Mocs’ Devonnsha Maxwell was a first team All-American in 2021, holding multiple other All-Conference and All-American honors throughout his career. The 6-foot-3, 296-pound defensive tackle will be a challenge for the Illinois offensive line to defend, disrupting the main spark plug for Chattanooga.

With an increased fan attendance to be expected, the momentum heading into Wisconsin is in the team’s hands.

Bielema has ingrained his team to tackle every single week the same, to “prepare and expect a win.” 

“We’re trying to go 1-0 this week.”

 

@JonathanAlday7

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