CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — — Chase Brown became the first Illinois running back to rush for 100 yards in five straight games, Tommy DeVito passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns and the Fighting Illini beat Chattanooga 31-0 on Thursday night.
Illinois improved to 3-1 and is off to its best start since 2015.
“I think we’re just starting to figure out who we are,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “I really like the way this team works.”
Brown capped the five-play, 64-yard drive with a 9-yard run after the defense forced Chattanooga (3-1) into a three-and-out on its first drive.
He finished with 108 rushing yards on 20 carries and currently leads all FBS rushers with 604 yards through four games.
The closest the Mocs came to scoring came early in the second quarter when they drove to the Illinois 16-yard line. Jartavious Martin picked off a Preston Hutchinson pass in the end zone to end the Mocs’ threat and preserve the 10-0 lead.
“You can’t do that, I don’t care who you’re playing,” Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said. “You’ve got to throw the ball, second and 10, it’s there and we’re going to play. That pissed me off, I’m not going to lie.”
The Illini recorded their first shutout since the 2015 win over Western Illinois.
“The sky’s the limit for this defense, man,” Martin said.
“Coach (Ryan) Walters came in and set a great standard for our defense,” he added. “Just believing in us as a unit, we believe in him and we know he’s going to put us in the right game.”
Chattanooga went just 4 of 14 on third downs and gained 142 total yards. Illinois piled up 502 yards of offense.
Hutchinson was sacked four times and completed just 6 of 18 passes for 49 yards with two interceptions.
Illinois nearly quadrupled Chattanooga’s first-half rushing total, 332 yards to 84, and led 24-0 at halftime.
“I love blocking for Chase Brown,” Illinois center Alex Pilstrom said. “I know he can make a cut at any time and he can score at any time.”
Thursday night marked the first time in Illinois football history that two receivers had more than 100 receiving yards and a running back rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game. Pat Bryant caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, while Isaiah Williams caught nine passes for 103 yards and a score.
Williams’ 63-yard touchdown run off a screen pass made it 31-0 with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
DeVito became the first Illinois quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards in a game since Brandon Peters had 369 yards at Michigan State in 2019.
Ailym Ford hit runs of 39 and 32 yards for the Mocs’ biggest gains of the night. He finished with 93 yards on 17 carries.
Andrew Southard missed a 43-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter after Ford’s 32-yard run drove the Mocs into Illini territory.
“We’re beat tonight,” Wright said. We will need those extra days. I love this football team. I think we have a chance to become a good football team.”
Caleb Griffin kicked a 34-yard field goal to put Illinois up 10-0 in the first quarter.
Illinois: The Illini prepared well for a better-than-usual FCS opponent and dominated accordingly to put themselves in good position to make a bowl appearance with two-thirds of the schedule remaining. Illinois is a step or two away from competing in an open Big Ten West thanks to a stellar defense and a much-improved passing attack under new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. to make the calls.
Chattanooga: The Mocs can chalk it up to talent disparity and short rest after a strong start to their campaign. Rusty Wright’s team could be in the mix for the Southern Conference title come November.
Chattanooga: The Mocs visit East Tennessee State on Oct. 1.
Illinois: Bielema returns to his old ways when the Illini play at Wisconsin on Oct. 1.