Rapid Reaction: Illinois steamrolls past Chattanooga to wrap up nonconference schedule
Final Score: Chattanooga 0, Illinois 31
Brief Recap: Illinois is officially 3-1 heading into the conference portion of the schedule as the Illini are looking to get to a bowl game in Year 2 of head coach Bret Bielema. To get there, the Illini put up a dominant effort against Chattanooga.
The scoring started right out of the gate for the Illini. After forcing a quick 3-and-out to open the game, Illinois covered 64 yards in 5 plays for the first score of the game.
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A couple of big strikes to receiver Pat Bryant engineered a lot of the drive before Chase Brown did the rest. Brown carried the ball 3 times on the opening drive for 24 yards and the game’s opening touchdown.
If there was any doubt about the remaining outcome of the game, Illinois quickly put it to bed in the second quarter. With Chattanooga driving deep into the red zone, the Illini picked off a pass in the end zone to snuff out a drive and get the ball back.
The ensuing drive was a thing of beauty, covering 80 yards in 9 plays and capped with a brilliant reverse flea-flicker for a touchdown. QB Tommy DeVito went 7-for-9 on the drive with all 80 yards accounted for.
Key Player: Illinois was not short for standout performers in the Week 4 win. DeVito hit 300 yards with 3 touchdowns and no turnovers, Brown hit 100 yards rushing and Isaiah Williams went over 100 yards receiving.
However, the theme of the game – particularly in the hot start – was the work of Pat Bryant. Bryant finished the first half with 100 yards on 5 catches and nearly had a 79-yard touchdown that was called back by a holding penalty.
When he was finally pulled from the action, Bryant finished with 6 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. We’ll see if Bryant can build on that performance, but he played like the perfect addition to go with speedster Isaiah Williams in the passing attack.
Key Stat: 7-for-15, the 3rd-down efficiency numbers for Illinois in the big win. Illinois racked up 502 yards of offense (with 335 coming from the passing attack), and the third-down numbers were a key reason why.
The Illini produced 21 first downs offensively while limiting Chattanooga to just 7 first downs and held onto the ball for 31:47 in time of possession. It was a picture-perfect outing in what was supposed to be a big win for Illinois.
What it means moving forward: Illinois finishes the nonconference slate a perfect 3-0 and will enter October with a 3-1 overall record after an early loss to Indiana. Beyond the record, Illinois gets a couple of additional days this weekend to prepare for a Week 5 road trip to Madison to face Bret Bielema’s old Wisconsin program.
In terms of the big picture, Illinois is now halfway to 6 wins and a bowl bid. Nothing will be a given in conference play, and it was vital to win every game on the nonconference schedule to boost hopes of playing in the postseason.