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Illinois braces for matchup with FCS powerhouse Chattanooga

Sportsnaut
Sep 2, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) runs the ball while Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Josh Sanguinetti (19) defends in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois’ last nonconference game could be its toughest one.

When the Fighting Illini oppose Chattanooga on Thursday night in Champaign, Ill., they will take on a Top 10 team in the Football Championship Subdivision that is off to a 3-0 start.

Illinois (2-1) has sandwiched dominant home wins over Wyoming and Virginia around a disappointing Big Ten Conference loss at Indiana. The Illini have been idle since bouncing the Cavaliers 24-3 on Sept. 10.

Illinois’ game plan figures to be pretty simple — aim Chase Brown at the Mocs’ run defense. Brown is coming off a 146-yard performance against Virginia that was his fourth straight 100-yard effort, dating back to last year’s final game.

If Brown makes it five in a row, he would be the first back in program history to do it. His total of 496 yards in this season’s first three games leads all of FBS, as does his 18 rushes of at least 10 yards.

“He’s an animal,” Illini quarterback Tommy DeVito said of Brown. “He’s a special dude for sure. He can turn nothing into something. He can break a play any time.”

Brown needs just 12 yards to pass the immortal Red Grange for 17th on the Illini’s all-time rushing list. Brown enters the game with 2,059 rushing yards.

Chattanooga, meanwhile, is ranked ninth in the FCS after routing North Alabama 41-14 on Saturday at home. Quarterback Preston Hutchinson led the way by throwing for three touchdowns and running for two.

Hutchinson’s 303 passing yards marked the first time in four years that a Mocs quarterback had eclipsed 300 yards. Seven of his eight receivers finished with multiple catches.

The Mocs’ biggest problem might be a lack of preparation time. They have just three days to get ready before making the trip to east-central Illinois.

“We’re not the only ones going through it this week,” Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said. “Just have to adjust, be good mentally and be able to focus and prepare.”

This will be the first meeting between Chattanooga and Illinois.

–Field Level Media