Brown, DeVito lead Illinois past Wyoming 38-6 in opener

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chase Brown scored three touchdowns and rushed for 151 yards and Tommy DeVito completed 27 of 37 passes for 192 yards and two scores in his debut as Illinois breezed past Wyoming 38-6 in a season-opener on Saturday.

Only 41 seconds elapsed before Brown found his way into the end zone, latching on to a 14-yard pass from DeVito to put Illinois in front.

“I thought Tommy really showed great composure,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “He’s a very accurate passer. He had some glitches today, but things we can definitely clean up.”

Brown surpassed 2,000 career rushing yards – including his freshman season at Western Michigan – on an 18-yard run in the second quarter. Brown followed with an 11-yard TD run and kicker Caleb Griffin connected from 27 yards out to give Illinois a 17-3 halftime lead.

“A lot of times, running backs jump the gun on their keys and their reads, and he’s just really patient and I think playing at a high level,” Bielema said.

Brown is the 19th Illinois running back to hit the 2,000-yard career mark.

“We’ve got to be better going into Big Ten play to really make a statement,” Brown said. “We did what we were supposed to today. We all knew that we would win this game, but it’s going in there next week against Indiana where we can really make a statement.”

Wyoming quarterback Andrew Peasley completed just six of 21 passes for 40 yards in his debut.

Cowboys running back Titus Swen rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries, while Peasley added 76 rushing yards on eight attempts.

“Our guys are trying. We just didn’t play very well and we didn’t coach very well,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.

Swen left the game with what Bohl said could be a rib injury after a 6-yard run in the fourth.

The Cowboys converted just 1 of 12 third-down attempts, while the Illini were successful on 7 of 16.

John Hoyland had field goals of 22 and 46 yards for the Cowboys.

“It’s hard right now, but I do know this, we’ve got a lot of resolve in the locker room,” Bohl said. “(We have) coaches that want to work hard, and we’re going to come back. But yeah, it’s real frustrating.”

Illinois upped its lead to 31-6 early in the fourth quarter when Brown scored on a 5-yard run. Reggie Love tacked on late score with a 33-yard rush after he narrowly stayed on his feet and avoided the sideline.

DeVito, who transferred to Illinois from Syracuse, said he had enough time in the pocket to sift through his third and fourth options on certain passing downs.

“I’m not taking any shots here, but I think this is the first game that I’ve been in where I did not get sacked,” DeVito said. “Am I fair to say that?”

Sixth-year offensive tackle Alex Palczewski made his program record 53rd career start to break a tie with former teammate and current Minnesota Vikings tackle Vederian Lowe.

First-year offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. sped up the tempo at times, regularly going no-huddle in a bid to wear down Wyoming’s defensive front.

“We’re a no-huddle team now, there’s a lot of things that go into that,” Bielema said. “Barry is just extremely gifted in the way he thinks and communicates with our players. I think that definitely showed up today with the number of guys that played.”

Illini cornerback Jartavius Martin made a team-high seven tackles and broke up three passes.

THE TAKEAWAY

DeVito looked confident in his debut, even if there is room for improvement, connecting with a dozen different receivers. If Illinois gets steady quarterback play, it could fair well in the Big Ten West thanks to its stingy defense.

The Cowboys look a few steps behind 2021 after losing much of their top talent to the portal.

“If you want to play against these type of opponents, then you’ve got to perform,” Bohl said. “Maybe the want-to was there, but the competency as a whole wasn’t.”

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini open Big Ten Conference play on Friday night when they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers.

Wyoming: The Cowboys will host Tulsa next Saturday in a nonconference match-up.

Wyoming beats Kent State 52-38 in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
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BOISE, Idaho- Playing with a heavy heart in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams dedicated the game to his grandmother.

The way he danced past Kent State defenders for 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns in a record-setting performance in the Cowboys’ 52-38 win on Tuesday, it was a fitting tribute. Especially since she taught him how to dance.

“When she was living in a nursing home that’s how we spent time together,” Williams said of his grandmother, who lived with his family while he was growing up. “She was slow, so we did some slower dances, and the box step was probably my favorite.”

After she watched him play his redshirt freshman season at Wyoming, she wasn’t able to attend any games this year. And while preparing for the bowl, Williams felt fortunate he had a chance to say goodbye to her over the phone.

“She never missed any of my games,” Williams said. “And I’m sure she was looking down from heaven watching this one, too.”

Aside from Williams’ yardage record, the MVP’s touchdowns rushing also tied a Potato Bowl record. Through the air, he passed for 127 yards and another touchdown.

“He’s very gifted and can run like the wind,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “And obviously, it’s great to see him make those plays he’s very capable of making.”

Kent State (7-7), playing in its fifth bowl game in school history, raced out to a 17-7 lead and held a 24-21 advantage at halftime, but the Golden Flashes couldn’t hold up against Wyoming’s relentless rushing attack.

“That’s not the outcome we were looking for,” Kent State coach Sean Lewis said. “Areas that hampered us all year long hurt us today. . But I’m eager and excited to get back to work and build a program that Kent State can be proud of.”

Wyoming (7-6) scored 21 consecutive points to start the second half, including scoring runs of 27 and 80 yards by Williams, to build a 42-24 lead that proved to be too much for Kent State to overcome.

Wyoming senior linebacker Chad Muma and Butkus Award finalist didn’t disappoint in his final college game, leading the Cowboys on defense with 13 tackles and a half sack.

The Cowboys set the Potato Bowl team rushing record with 404 yards, while the two teams combined for 723 yards rushing, also a Potato Bowl record.

THE TAKEAWAYS

Wyoming: The Cowboys’ quarterback position has been a tug-of-war between Sean Chambers and Williams over the past two seasons. But Williams, who was named the starter midway through the season, will have a stranglehold on the position heading into spring practice.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes didn’t have any trouble moving the football, racking up 656 yards of offense. However, after holding Wyoming to 216 yards of offense in the first half, Kent State’s defense wilted in the second half, getting pushed around by a much more physical Wyoming offensive line.

MAC DEFENSES, PLEASE

Wyoming’s blueprint to victory this season relied on stout defense and ball control offense – except against MAC teams. The Cowboys averaged 18.3 points per game against teams from all other conferences. But in three games against MAC teams – Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Kent State – Wyoming averaged 49 points.

NEXT SEASON

Kent State: Fourth-year coach Lewis returns most of the offensive pieces next season needed to accomplish something the Golden Flashes haven’t done since the 1950s-go four straight years without a losing season. Leading rusher Marquez Cooper and top receiver Dante Cephas, who combined for 2,294 yards of total offense this year, will return for their junior seasons. Collin Schllee is expected to take over at quarterback after senior Dustin Crum exhausted all of his eligibility. Defense presents a bigger challenge for Lewis, who returns just four players but includes leading tackler Dean Clark.

Wyoming: As Bohl enters his ninth season at Wyoming, he will have to cobble together almost an entirely new offensive line with only one starter returning. But his defensive unit returns eight starters, yet will have a huge hole to fill with Muma’s departure.

UP NEXT

Wyoming opens next season at Illinois on Aug. 27.

Kent State opens its 2022 campaign at Washington on Sept. 3.

Pac-12 allows flexibility to schedule nonconference games

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Pac-12 Conference has approved a plan to allow member schools to schedule nonconference football opponents subject to certain conditions if games are canceled.

The conference has had five of its 18 scheduled games during the first three weeks canceled amid COVID-19 issues. California and UCLA were able to schedule a game against each other last weekend on 45 hours’ notice after Cal’s game against Arizona State and UCLA’s matchup against Utah were canceled due to the Sun Devils and Utes having several positive COVID-19 tests.

“The Pac-12 is committed to maintaining maximum flexibility to provide our football student-athletes with an opportunity to compete, while continuing to ensure that health and safety remains our number one priority,” Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.

Colorado was slated to host Arizona State on Saturday but that game was called off earlier this week.

The conference’s new scheduling plan could give the Buffaloes the possibility of facing Colorado State or Wyoming if the Mountain West Conference doesn’t schedule a rematch between the two schools.

The Cowboys and Rams are without opponents due to COVID-19 cases at Utah State and UNLV.

The Pac-12’s CEO Group will allow a nonconference game if all of its testing and coronavirus-related protocols are followed and the game is hosted by a Pac-12 team.

If another conference opponent becomes available by the end of the day Thursday in any given week, the Pac-12 game must be played.