Illinois eyes best start since 2015 as Chattanooga visits

September 21, 2022 GMT
FILE - Illinois's Chase Brown (2) runs against Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. The Big Ten's tradition of producing elite running backs is alive and well. The conference features the nation's top two rushers in Illinois' Chase Brown and Minnesota's Mohammed Ibrahim and four others are running for better than 100 yards per game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
FILE - Illinois's Chase Brown (2) runs against Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. The Big Ten's tradition of producing elite running backs is alive and well. The conference features the nation's top two rushers in Illinois' Chase Brown and Minnesota's Mohammed Ibrahim and four others are running for better than 100 yards per game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
FILE - Illinois's Chase Brown (2) runs against Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. The Big Ten's tradition of producing elite running backs is alive and well. The conference features the nation's top two rushers in Illinois' Chase Brown and Minnesota's Mohammed Ibrahim and four others are running for better than 100 yards per game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
FILE - Illinois's Chase Brown (2) runs against Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. The Big Ten's tradition of producing elite running backs is alive and well. The conference features the nation's top two rushers in Illinois' Chase Brown and Minnesota's Mohammed Ibrahim and four others are running for better than 100 yards per game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
FILE - Illinois's Chase Brown (2) runs against Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. The Big Ten's tradition of producing elite running backs is alive and well. The conference features the nation's top two rushers in Illinois' Chase Brown and Minnesota's Mohammed Ibrahim and four others are running for better than 100 yards per game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Chattanooga (3-0) at Illinois (2-1), Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

Line: No line, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: First meeting.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Illinois can start 3-1 for the first time since 2015 and is fresh off a bye week and a 24-3 win over Virginia. Chattanooga has outscored its first three opponents 110-34 and is ranked No. 9 in the FCS coaches poll as it visits Champaign for the first Thursday night game played at Memorial Stadium.

KEY MATCHUP

Mocs QB Preston Hutchinson vs. the Illinois secondary. Hutchinson leads the Southern Conference in passing yards (752) and yards per completion (15.04), but will face an Illinois secondary that limited a talented group of Virginia receivers to 180 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Hutchinson will need to avoid mistakes against playmaking defensive backs like Devon Witherspoon and Jartavius Martin if Chattanooga is going to hang around in this one.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chattanooga: RB Ailym Ford paces a fairly balanced Mocs offense with an average of 5.5 yards per carry, rushing for 331 yards and four scores on 60 attempts so far. Hutchinson has also added four rushing touchdowns and averages 5.7 yards per carry. Offensive lineman McClendon Curtis leads a unit that has only allowed one sack this season.

Illinois: Defensive linemen Keith Randolph and Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton are helping generate tons of pressure against opposing offenses, combining for three sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries so far. Chase Brown could become the first Illini running back to rush for 100-plus yards in five-straight games after he ran for 146 yards on 20 carries against Virginia.

FACTS & FIGURES

Illinois is 17-0 all-time against FCS opponents. ... The Illini are one of five FBS teams that have not allowed a touchdown at home so far this year. ... Chattanooga has never played an active member of the Big Ten. ... Chattanooga has been called for 17 penalties for 189 yards in three games. ... The Mocs are 3-0 for the first time since 2018.

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