CHAMPAIGN — Chase Brown became the first Illinois player to rush for more than 100 yards in five straight games, Tommy DeVito had 329 yards and three touchdowns and the Fighting Illini on Thursday night. beat Chattanooga 31-0.

Illinois improved to 3-1 and is off to its best start since 2015.

“I think we’re just starting to understand who we are,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “I really like the way this group works.”

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Brown capped a five-play, 64-yard scoring drive with a 9-yard touchdown run as 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.

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The closest the Mocs came to scoring came early in the second quarter when they drove to the Illinois 16-yard line. Jartavius ​​Martin picked off a Preston Hutchinson pass in the end zone to end the Mocs’ threat and preserve a 10-0 lead.

“You can’t do that, I don’t care who you’re playing against,” Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said. “You’ve got to throw the ball, second and 10, it’s right there and we play. It p*ssed me off, not gonna lie.

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The Illini recorded their first shutout since a 2015 win over Western Illinois.

“The sky’s the limit with this defense, man,” Martin said.

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“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 know he’s going to put us in the right (play) call.”

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 yardage total, 332 yards to 84 yards, and led 24-0 at halftime.

“I love blocking for Chase Brown,” Illinois center Alex Pihlstrom said. “I know he can 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 in the same game and a running back had more than 100 yards rushing in the same game. Pete 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 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 threw for 369 yards at Michigan State in 2019.

Elim Ford had the biggest gains of the night for the Mocs with runs of 39 and 32 yards. 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 moved the Mocs into Illini territory.

“We got beat up tonight,” Wright said. “We’re a beat crew right now. We’re going to need those extra days. Love this football team. I think we have a chance to be a good football team.

Caleb Griffin kicked a 34-yard field goal to put Illinois up 10-0 in the first quarter.

Takeaway

Illinois: The Illini prepared well for a better-than-usual FCS opponent and dominated accordingly to put themselves in good position for a bowl appearance with two-thirds of the schedule remaining. Illinois is a step or two away from contending in a wide-open Big Ten West thanks to a stellar defense and a much-improved passing att*ck under new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.

Chattanooga: The Mocs can chalk it up to a talent gap and short rest after a strong start to their campaign. Rusty Wright’s group could face off for the Southern Conference title in November.

Next up

Chattanooga: The Mocs visit East Tennessee State on Oct. 1.

Illinois: Bielema returns to his old stomping grounds when the Illini play at Wisconsin on Oct. 1.

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