Tuesday, March 21

Illini Open 2022 Season with 38-6 Victory over Wyoming

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois dominated on both sides of the ball to win its Week Zero opener for the second straight season, taking down Wyoming, 38-6, at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Illini opened the game with a bang on their first drive of the season. Junior Chase Brown took his first carry of the season 38 yards up the right sideline before senior Tommy DeVito connected with Brown for 14-yard touchdown pass one play later on his first pass attempt as an Illini.

After the Cowboys got on the board via a field goal, the Illini capitalized on two big Chase Brown carries to find the end zone once again. Brown eclipsed 100 yards on the day on the drive, which pushed him over 2,000 career rushing yards. Back-to-back short completions eventually led to an 11-yard touchdown rush from Brown, his second score of the day.

Junior Devon Witherspoon recorded his third career interception on the next drive and returned the pick 40 yards to ultimately set up a 27-yard field goal from junior Caleb Griffin, the second of his career.

Illinois headed into halftime with a 17-3 lead and over 250 yards of total offense, headlined by Brown’s 139 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.

The Illini extended their lead late in the third quarter on an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped off by a six-yard Pat Bryant touchdown, the first score of his college career. The touchdown pushed the Illinois lead to three scores, 24-6, with under three minutes to play in the third quarter.

The defense produced a big fourth-down stop on the next drive, and the offense went right back to work. Starting from the Wyoming 44, Illinois quickly and efficiently moved down the field, needing just five plays to find the end zone. Two long pass completions set up a 5-yard Brown carry, his third touchdown of the afternoon, to extend the Illini advantage to 31-6.

Sophomore Reggie Love III joined in on the fun on the next Illinois drive, ending a 7-play, 70-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown run, his first collegiate rushing score, to move the Illini edge to 38-6 with under seven minutes to play.


Head coach Bret Bielema

Opening statement

“I thought two things today. Our guys put in a lot of preparation. We talked about starting fast and we couldn’t have asked for a better start. A couple things that we emphasized in the kicking game. It was Peyton Vining we moved to corner and he was a guy that was having a pretty good spring and fall. Then had a little soft tissue so we pulled him out of it and he got cleared about 10 days ago. 2 weeks ago I called him one night because I was using him on special teams. He was a double digit number. He says hey coach ya know I’m the only player on your roster that’s returned a kickoff for a touchdown. I said I’m aware of this and we gave him his opportunity and he capitalized. Really fun to see a guy like that start the season and his story to get to where he is. It’s awesome. Tommy and Chase finished off the rest of that drive pretty good.

“I think there’s a lot of things we can clean up. I thought offensively from communication, the way they adjusted on the sidelines. I thought Tommy really showed great composure; he’s a very accurate passer. He had some glitches today, but things we can definitely clean up. To get him out in the stare of the fourth quarter and let Art get in there let him have a little success. Just really proud of our offense and what they did, we got a lot of things to clean up but I thought that was good.

“Defensively we talked all week. We knew they were going to have some explosive runs they’re a good football team, they have some good schemes. We talked about getting the ball down, if it breaks just get the ball down and make another play. They had a couple big runs that we got down and held them to kick a field goal. I think between offense, defense and special teams to come out of it the way we did I’m excited. I don’t really have any update on Josh McCray. Isaiah could have gone back in. I didn’t want him back in he was just cramping, so I think we came out of it pretty clean. We will wait and see the results of Josh.” 

Bret Bielema on Tommy DeVito

“I liked Tommy’s demeanor. I thought he did some things that don’t go in the newspaper like getting rid of the ball on some early downs so we didn’t end up in a negative yards situation. He distributed the ball to a lot of different players, I think they said 12 players caught a pass today, not locking in on one guy. I think Barry has done a tremendous job working with Tommy and let Art come in and do that. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

Bret Bielema on Chase Brown

“I have had a lot of good running backs in my career, I’ve been blessed. I told him last spring the last hit you took in the Northwestern game is the last time you are going to get tackled that open so just prepare that way. He’s had a great spring, he had a good fall. We didn’t let anybody tackle him since the running backs have the shortest NFL career, obviously he’s not there yet, but every play for a running back when you hand them the ball usually ends in a hit. Those guys have limited reps. I was a little nervous to see how explosive he would be, but he’s got an excellent understanding of how he plays, he plays behind his pads very well.”

Bret Bielema on his defense

“I think our backend is really playing at a high level. Up front we got some good players but I think Quan Martin is playing exceptional football, Sid as well. I was excited to see what Kendal did in his first extensive action. We took Taz out at half, he had a soft tissue and didn’t want to press him.” 

Bret Bielema on Illinois’ transfer portal additions

Terrell Jennings has been a huge addition for us in the portal, we just got him literally when camp started. The use of the transfer portal for us really showed up today. Between the two guards starting for us, Tommy DeVito, Terrell Jennings was a huge acquisition. TeRah (Edwards) gave us some stuff, RJ gave us some stuff inside. Our personnel crew has done a really nice job for us.” 

Bret Bielema on his receivers

“I thought Pat Ryan, he’s a big kid, he runs well, he’s awesome, he’s tough. Hightower has had an incredible camp. Casey Washington had a critical third down catch. You start playing that depth of receivers you are going to stay fresh. That’s a difficult prep. George McDonald is an exceptional coach that maximizes that wide receiver room. I don’t know if I have a coach that has as much preparation and detail in the teaching of the game as he does his wideouts. 

“If you are a good wide receiver and want to play a good style of football you should come play at Illinois.”

Chase Brown 

Chase Brown on the team’s performance

“I was satisfied with how things went today but I think going into next week, there’s a lot we need to work on to carry on our drives and be a more consistent offense. I’m happy with the win today but there’s still work to be done.” 

Chase Brown on the future of the season

“When we’re at our best we’re going to be hard to stop, but we got to take care of each other, whether doing all we can to protect Tommy (DeVito), we just got to protect each other. As long as we keep doing that and getting better and learning from the film, what we put in today will be much better next week.” 

Chase Brown on the new offensive line 

“That’s something that will develop over time, I think Tommy looked great today. He looked comfortable, he threw accurate balls and that’s all we can ask for him. All we can do is ask him to play and that’s what he did. I’m looking forward to working with him more and building chemistry with him and the offensive line as well. We’re so early in the season right now, I’m excited to see what this team is going to be in a week or two.” 

Chase Brown on his patience

“Maybe last year I would have tried to rush it but today I just let it develop. I saw how things were going to work and that’s what you get from being an experienced player. The offensive line did great today and I want to commend them for a lot of that because none of the yards today would have been possible.” 

Chase Brown on Chase Hayden and Reggie Love III

“I saw two guys that stepped up, Chase and Reggie didn’t get as many reps as they wanted to in the beginning of the week but they came out today and they really put their names out there. I think Reggie got the coolest first touchdown ever. I’m really proud of him, he’s the best teammate ever. Whenever somebody gets in the end zone he’s the first person there to congratulate them and now we can be congratulating him.”

Chase Brown on future offense

“That’s just us running different types of run schemes and stuff like that. Each run play is different, each person has their own thing they are impatient for and they need to work on. Today it was just a really, really fast start and that’s something we have to take advantage of especially going onto our second and third and fourth drives. We just need to use this fast pace offense to our advantage and play better football next week.”              

Chase Brown on if he expected the offense to be fast-paced

“That was one of the goals I knew going into the game, if we just knew the game plan and trusted the calls Berry would put us in positions to make plays and that’s what exactly happened today. I was like a one-two punch right off the bat so it’s just something to build off of and build chemistry with the offensive line and quarterback.”

Chase Brown on his 2,000 career rushing yards

“It’s not something I’m focused on right now, I just want to be the best player I can be on this team. However I can lead the young guys and pour in as much as I can before the season is over. I’m just taking it one week at a time right now.”

Tommy DeVito

Tommy DeVito on the first drive, which resulted in a touchdown

“You’re not gonna score unless you try, so we did it. Chase (Brown) had a great run, and we had a great play call.”

Tommy DeVito on offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.‘s offensive preparation

“I’m happy with the win first, but tomorrow’s gonna be a big day for offense growing-wise. One of our things coming into this game was to be clean and play clean. There is still a lot of meat left on the bone that we’re gonna need to take care of.”

Tommy DeVito on his personal assessment of his performance

“I did alright. I’m a lot harder on myself than people would think. I’ll probably pull out my iPad and go look through every simple throw and every decision that I made on the field obviously.”

Tommy DeVito on what he learned about the Illini offense

“Yeah, I mean that’s the first time I was able to see the run game really flourish. Chase (Brown) and Josh (McCray) are not getting touching. They’re not getting hit. There’s a couple of scenarios where they get a little dinged there, but to see them live and see the run game flourish and really evolve is awesome to see. I’ve heard a lot about them coming into the program but to be able to see Chase go, it’s great.”

Tommy DeVito on the offensive line

“The offensive line is awesome, whether it’s the run game, pass game, just going with the tempo. Practice is one thing but being on the field, going a whole drive, a whole series now, it was awesome. It was awesome to see that and I’m looking forward to see the moves that they make.”

Tommy DeVito on the nerves heading into his Illinois debut

“No, just pure excitement. I’d say pure excitement. Honestly, it sounds crazy, but you know I don’t get touched all camp either, so the whole last week I had Donovan (Leary) swinging pads and he gets me some contact here and there because going from not getting hit for a long time to getting hit for the first time, I was looking forward to that first hit for the first game.

Tarique Barnes

Tarique Barnes on what the defense showed

“I think we showed that we are still building on where we left off last year. Everybody talks about how much better we got throughout the season, and that’s just the start of it, so I think that once we continue to correct our mistakes and continue to get better, we can really just show that we’re coming up more and more.”

Tarique Barnes on what worked in the pass defense

“I think beyond that, just kind of being more accountable with one another and playing together to make sure that all of us on the field are looking at things the same way, and are at least reacting to things or communicating.”

Tarique Barnes on the feelings of holding Wyoming without a touchdown

“It’s a lot of pride in that. I think as a defender, you want to make sure that opponents can’t score or that we have no weaknesses. Going out there and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, they can’t do anything.’  It’s good. It’s a confidence booster definitely.”

Jer’Zhan Newton

Jer’Zhan Newton on preparing for this week’s game 

“We knew what was coming for third down and fourth down, we’ve been prepared for that all week so we were really comfortable with what plays they were running and we just had to execute.” 

Jer’Zhan Newton on off-season training 

“We knew we didn’t want a season like that again, that Northwestern win, it was bad and we had a losing season. But during the off-season we grinded hard and we got transfers rolling in and the opportunity to coach them and everybody wants to play well too.” 

Team Notes

Today (Aug. 27) marks the earliest season opener in Illinois’ 133-year program history. The previous earliest start date was Aug. 28, set in last year’s opener vs. Nebraska. This is the 10th time in program history that the season has started in August.

Head coach Bret Bielema is the seventh head coach in Illinois’ 133-year-program history to win their first two season openers. Bielema is 13-1 in season openers in his 14-year career as a head coach.

            » George Huff (1895 & 1896), Edgar G.Holt (1902 & 1902), Robert Zuppke (1913 & 1914), Ron Zook (2005 & 2006), Tim Beckman (2012 & 2013), Lovie Smith (2016 & 2017).

Illinois was victorious in the first ever meeting between these two programs.

The 475 total yards of offense by the Illini was the most in a game since posting 459 yards vs. Northwestern on Nov. 27, 2021.

Illinois has scored 30 points or more in back-to-back season openers for the first time 2015 & 2016 (52 points in each game).

The Illini did not allow a touchdown in today’s game for the first time since Aug. 31, 2019, vs. Akron, which was also a season opener.

Illinois has held opponents to 20 points or less in five of their last six games, dating back to Oct. 23, 2021.

Illinois allowed just 30 passing yards in today’s game, the first time since Oct. 21, 2017, at Minnesota, that they have held an opponent under 50 passing yards.

Ten different Illini caught a pass in today’s game.

Illinois committed no turnovers and also did not allow a sack in a game for the first time since Oct. 30, 2021, vs. Rutgers

The Illini defense held the Cowboys to 1-for-12 on third down. Wyoming started the game by going 0-for-11 on third down.

Individual Notes

Illinois captains: LB Tarique Barnes, DB Sydney Brown, OL Alex Palczewski, WR Isaiah Williams 

Four Illini started for the first time at Illinois: QB Tommy DeVito, LG Isaiah Adams, RG Zy Crisler, OLB Ezekiel Holmes

Illinois’ starting offensive line averaged 6-6, 316 pounds. 

     » LT Julian Pearl (6-foot-6, 315 pounds), LG Isaiah Adams (6-5, 315), C Alex Pihlstrom (6-6, 305), RG Zy Crisler (6-6, 330), RT Alex Palczewski (6-6, 315)

OL Alex Palczewski made his 53rd-career start, becoming Illinois’ all-time leader in starts, breaking a tie with former teammate Vederian Lowe.

RB Chase Brown scored the first Illinois points of the season on the first receiving touchdown of his career, a 14-yard reception.

Brown rushed for 151 yards in the game, exceeding 2,000 yards for his career (1,714 yards at Illinois/352 yards at Western Michigan). He has also rushed for over 100 yards in back-to-back contests, doing so in the 2021 season finale vs. Northwestern (112 yards).

QB Tommy DeVito made his first start at Illinois and completed 27 of his 37 passes for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns. DeVito surpassed 4,000 career yards with his performance (3,866 yards at Syracuse).

WR Pat Bryant led receivers with 42 yards on three catches. His 27 yard reception was the longest passing play by the Illini today.

RB Reggie Love III scored his first-career rushing touchdown with a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter.


Bielema Press Conference


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