Illinois counting on RB Chase Brown in opener with Wyoming

Field Level Media

August 25, 2022 at 5:28 pm.

Tommy DeVito will get the nod at quarterback for Illinois in its season opener Saturday against Wyoming in Champaign, Ill.

DeVito was announced as the starter on Thursday, but given how second-year coach Bret Bielema likes to play the game, it probably didn’t matter whether Syracuse transfer DeVito or returnee Artur Sitkowski got the call.

The Fighting Illini are going to be a run-first team, just like Bielema’s teams were at Wisconsin and Arkansas. And with the 1-2 punch of junior Chase Brown and sophomore Josh McCray, why not?

Brown picked up 1,005 yards last year, averaging nearly six yards per carry, while McCray added 549 and averaged almost five yards an attempt. And they could have been even better had Illinois gotten more accurate passing from Sitkowski or Brandon Peters, who combined to hit just 52.3 percent of their 317 attempts.

If DeVito can be at least efficient/adequate, the Illini could improve from a 5-7 mark last year.

“We know who the guys are,” Bielema said after his team’s final preseason scrimmage on Aug. 19, before announcing his starting QB. “I think there are still some battles offensively and defensively.”

Wyoming is coming off a 7-6 season that included a 52-38 win over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, enabling it to close on a winning note. The Cowboys have been projected for a fifth-place finish in the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division, where Boise State and Air Force are picked to finish 1-2.

Wyoming boasts a good running back in junior Titus Swen, who gained 785 yards and averaged nearly six yards per attempt last year. Its leader on defense is linebacker Easton Gibbs, a sophomore who’s the team’s top returning tackler after notching 90 in 2021.

Cowboys coach Craig Bohl was pleased with his offensive line in the preseason.

“We’re making some progress there — enough that we’re going to be able go into the Illinois game and finalize our depth chart without having a lot of musical chairs,” he said.

Saturday is the first matchup between the schools.