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.
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.”
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.