At halftime, Illinois had its back against the wall.

The Illini, who had lost 4 in a row coming in, were trailing Charlotte 14-10 at the break. It didn’t seem like anything was going Illinois’ way, offensively.

Then, Chase Brown broke out.

The redshirt sophomore had 48 yards at halftime, but his second half almost single-handedly changed the game. In the second half alone, he ran for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns — one of which was an 80-yard run — to lead Illinois to a 24-14 victory over the 49ers.

On the day, he ran for 257 yards, which ranks 4th in Illinois program history.

But the box score doesn’t tell the whole story of Brown’s dominance. Multiple times, he carried the pile for a few more yards — including at least once for a first down. At times, he almost looked reminiscent of Mike Alstott when he played for Purdue or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was pure dominance. That’s the best way to put it.

His coach sure didn’t sound surprised by the effort.

“You see Chase and his ability and his skillset, but I think he also has the ability to take the home run hit like you saw,” Illini coach Bret Bielema said after the game. “There wasn’t anybody catching him, so he’s really just scratching the surface of what he’ll become.”

This could be more than just a random breakout performance. This could be the game that makes Brown a go-to option in B1G play.

In his first 3 games, Brown totaled 122 yards on 26 carries. He more than doubled that yardage on the same amount of touches. That shows you what he can do.

When the season started, Illinois looked like it would have some running back depth. Mike Epstein looked like he was getting healthy, Chase Hayden had transferred in from Eastern Carolina and Brown was back for year 3 after transferring from Western Michigan.

But Epstein got hurt again and Hayden has only played in 2 games this season. Brown also missed a couple games with an injury, which left freshman Josh McCray to carry the load.

For Brown, it was more than just a statement game. It was a way to start putting the injuries behind him.

“At the start of the season I suffered an injury during camp, and it kind of carried on during Nebraska and UTSA and Maryland, all those games,” Brown said. “This is the first time where I kind of felt like I could play like myself a little bit and use my hands and my shoulders. It just felt really good to be back.”

For Bielema, who had a strong run game when he last coached in the B1G, he might have a major weapon for conference play.

When Bielema coached at Wisconsin, the Badgers were a top-15 rushing offense in his last 4 years. He also had a rusher finish 2nd in the B1G in rushing yards in 3 of those years. A good running-back room is nothing new for him, and that’s why Brown’s big game could be more than just a flash in the pan.

Illinois now has two strong running backs in Brown and McCray — if Brown can stay healthy, of course. That’s a good recipe for success as the Illini head into the back end of their schedule.

It also takes pressure off Brandon Peters and the passing game. Peters didn’t have the best day, passing-wise, against Charlotte, completing 10 of 19 passes for just 71 yards and a touchdown. But he didn’t have to have a big day. The running game did its job, which created a good balance on that side of the ball.

The rest of the schedule isn’t easy, though. Illinois will face the top 3 rushing defenses in the B1G — Wisconsin (Oct. 9), Penn State (Oct. 23) and Iowa (Nov. 20) — which means the passing game will have to bounce back going forward.

For right now, though, Illini fans have to think about the future. A Brown/McCray RB tandem is a good start for a rebuilding team. Bielema has a 3-star RB commit coming in next year, but Brown and McCray could be around for a few years to solidify the run game.

Brown certainly chose a good day to have a good day.