Illinois defense dominates again, shuts out Chattanooga to close out non-conference play

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Logan Hodson

Sophomore linebacker Seth Coleman hits the Chattanooga quarterback in the pocket. The Illinois defense dominated their opponent throughout the night.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini shut out the Chattanooga Mocs in a 31-0 game on a chilly Thursday night under the lights to finish undefeated in non-conference play and head into Madison, Wisc., 3-1.

A lopsided first half began with senior quarterback Preston Hutchinson unable to get anything going to open the game. The Mocs only had one positive play coming on a four-yard completion and were forced to punt.

Senior quarterback Tommy DeVito connected early with sophomore wide receiver Pat Bryant as the two paired up on back-to-back plays for gains of 14 and 26, respectively. From there, star junior running back Chase Brown took over, literally carrying the Mocs defense into the endzone with a nine-yard rush to take a 7-0 lead fewer than three minutes into the game.

On the ensuing Illinois drive, sophomore running back Reggie Love got the first down carry for the Illini. On second down, DeVito hit sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Williams in tight coverage for a 14-yard gain.

A sack led to an Illini fourth down, which Bielema elected to go for it. The pass was on target by DeVito but went right through junior wide receiver Casey Washington’s hands, and the Illini turned the ball over.

After the Illinois defense forced another punt, DeVito and the offense got started at their 20-yard line. A 79-yard touchdown on a screen to Bryant on the next play left the stadium in exuberance. However, the play was called back due to a holding call. The Illini would later go on to settle for a field goal.

The Mocs would eventually get their first down on their fourth drive after Hutchinson found a wide-open senior wide receiver Tyron Arnett for a 14-yard gain on third down. Another passing completion was not in the cards for the Mocs as sophomore lineman Keith Randolph Jr. intercepted Hutchinsons’ pass at the line of scrimmage but fumbled on the return, and the Mocs recovered and received a fresh set of downs.

The reset rejuvenated Hutchinson and the Mocs as another first down to Arnett set up junior running back Ailym Ford for a nine-yard rush and a 39-yard rush to reach the Illini 16-yard line. The Mocs would not capitalize as freshman linebacker Gabe Jacas hurried Hutchinson into throwing an inaccurate pass directly to senior defensive back Quan Martin for the interception.

Following a 15-yard hookup with Washington, the Illini went to the screen game with senior tight end Luke Ford, Brown, Williams, and redshirt-freshman Miles Scott all catching passes in the backfield. Offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. got tricky on the drive’s final play, with the Illini executing a flea flicker, and DeVito found senior tight end Michael Marchese for a 25-yard score.

Jacas continued to impress on the defensive side of the ball, stopping a run for a one-yard loss and then sacking Hutchinson on the following play, forcing the Mocs’ fourth punt of the day. 

DeVito and the Illini showed no signs of slowing down with a lead, as DeVito hit junior wide receiver Brian Hightower in stride for a 27-yard gain to get into the red zone for the fourth time of the first half. After a short gain, Bryant beat his man and found himself wide open for another Illini touchdown to take a 24-0 lead. 

The Moc’s defense held up on the third quarter’s first drive, putting their offense in excellent field position after an 11-yard punt by Illinois. Ailym Ford took the carry on first down and broke two tackles on his way to a 32-yard carry to start their drive. Senior defensive back Sydney Brown sprinted around the offensive line undetected for a big sack forcing a 43-yard field goal which the Mocs missed, keeping the shutout intact early in the third quarter. 

An offensive facemask penalty on Williams put the Illini in a hole early on their next drive, and they could not recover. A punt would not keep the ball out of Illini hands for long, as sophomore lineman Johnny Newton and sophomore linebacker Seth Coleman converged on Hutchinson for a sack on third down to force the sixth punt of the game.

After a costly penalty on the prior drive, DeVito put the ball right back in Williams’s hands, and the receiver turned on the burners, outracing every defender for a 63-yard score to take a 31-0 lead, ending the day for both players. 

Junior quarterback Arthur Sitkowski, Love and senior running back Chase Hayden were able to run out the clock in an uneventful fourth quarter to end the game and keep the ball out of the hands of the Mocs.

Williams, Bryant and Brown would end the day with over 100 yards, marking the first game in Illinois history with two wide receivers and a running back finishing a game with those stats. DeVito finished the game with 329 yards, completing 23 of 31 passes with three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 195.3, the second-highest highest rating of his career.

Illinois finishes out their non-conference schedule undefeated for the first time since 2011. The Illini have also allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the country since October of 2021 and zero touchdowns at home games this season. The 3-1 start and shut out both mark firsts since 2015, showing promise for the program’s trajectory.

Next, the Illini get two extra days of rest before heading to Madison, Wisc., on Saturday, October 1st, to resume Big Ten play against a historically strong Badger team. 

 

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