Early in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game between Chattanooga and Illinois, Mocs running back Ailym Ford broke through the line and bolted 39 yards downfield to set his team up in the red zone. One play later, quarterback Preston Hutchinson was picked off in the end zone and the Illini faithful erupted; two snaps that resembled Chattanooga’s whole night quite well.
Every time the Mocs got some semblance of momentum built up, Illinois squashed it immediately. It wasn’t for lack of effort on Chattanooga’s part but in the end, they just weren’t good enough to keep pace with the Illini. Hutchinson struggled, going 6 of 18 passing for 49 yards. He was also sacked four times. Ford finished his night with 93 yards on the ground.
It was clear from the get go that this wouldn’t be the Mocs’ night. On their opening series, Illinois’ offense marched 64 yards in just five plays to take a 7-0 lead. Chase Brown bullied his way in for a nine-yard touchdown to give the Illini the advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Chattanooga defense got a little spark midway through the first quarter when they stopped Illinois on fourth and short. Still, though, they failed to produce anything on the other end. Even in spite of a wild play in which their offense... yes, their offense... forced a turnover, the first quarter ended scoreless for the visitors.
The Illini upped their lead to 17-0 in the second quarter when quarterback Tommy DeVito and receiver Michael Marchese beautifully executed a flea-flicker for a 25-yard touchdown strike. DeVito would later hit Pat Bryant for another score to pull ahead 24-0 before halftime. At the break, Illinois had outgained Chattanooga 334 yards to 84.
The third quarter saw much of the same. On the first drive for the Mocs, Ford again busted out a big run to get the offense down to the Illini 20-yard line. A sack on Hutchinson and a run for no gain, though, forced a field goal try from kicker Andrew Southard. Southard shanked his 43-yard attempt to the right, though, ensuring that they'd still be scoreless.
Later in the quarter, Isaiah Williams extended the Illini lead when he caught a pass from DeVito and ran it 63 yards to the end zone. Now up 31-0, Illinois put the game on cruise control. By the start of the fourth Illinois had things well in control as the backups came in and they closed out the shutout win.
The Mocs struggled in all phases of the game. The defense surrendered 502 yards on the evening and 335 of them were through the air. Hutchinson and the offense couldn’t get anything rolling as they turned the ball over twice.
There was a few positives to glean, despite the overall performance from Chattanooga. Star defensive lineman Devonnsha Maxwell is now up to 33 sacks on his career after bringing down DeVito two times. The team as a whole also kept its penalty numbers down, getting flagged only once.
The loss is the Mocs’ first of the season, dipping their record to 3-1. They went into this game ranked #10 in the STATS FCS polls and likely won’t fall too far in the rankings next week as a road loss to a Big Ten team is forgivable. There’s plenty of work to do as SoCon play is around the corner but all in all, Rusty Wright’s team should be just fine in the long run.
Chattanooga will now turn its attention to another road game, this time at conference foe East Tennessee State, next Saturday.