Nov 12, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA;  Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum (2) rushes in the second half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

‘Mission continues’ for No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 21 Illinois

The last time Michigan went 12-0, Brian Griese was starting under center, a young Tom Brady had only 15 pass attempts in his sophomore season and Charles Woodson was headlining a defense allowing 9.5 points per game.

That was back in 1997, but the third-ranked Wolverines find themselves in a position to replicate that record. First, they’ll have to get past No. 21 Illinois on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michigan (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) maintained its pristine record, coasting to a 34-3 victory against Nebraska last week. J.J. McCarthy completed 8 of 17 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns and Blake Corum added a score on the ground to go along with 162 rushing yards on 28 carries.

“Just feel great. Just so appreciative of everybody, really — players, coaches, staff, all the hard work that’s gone in,” Wolverines coach John Harbaugh said. “The mission continues. It’s a happy mission. … Keep it rolling, keep it going, and guys are a joy to be around. Excited about the matchup that we have this week.”

That matchup will feature two of the best backs in the country, as Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, spearheads the Fighting Illini (7-3, 4-3) offense in a showdown with Corum and Michigan.

Brown rushed for 100-plus yards in 10 straight games, but was held to 98 last week in Illinois’ 31-24 loss to Purdue. It was the first time the Illini lost back-to-back games this season.

Brown went down on the sideline in the fourth quarter with a right leg injury and had to exit the game. Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Brown is working toward playing this week.

“Very positive and excited, but don’t know where we’ll be by Friday for the trip and Saturday for the game,” Bielema said.

Bielema said that linebacker Seth Coleman has been cleared to practice. He entered the concussion protocol and was forced to miss the meeting with the Boilermakers.

Coleman has 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks this season.

Cornerback Taz Nicholson will miss the rest of the season due to a wrist injury.

Due to the injuries, Bielema knows that others are going to have to step up if the Illini want to hand Michigan its first loss.

“From the inside of our building, it’s the next opportunity,” Bielema said of how his team views adversity stemming from injuries. “I just can’t stress enough that that’s how we kind of look at things, that’s how we talk about it to get a chance to go play Michigan at Michigan.”

McCarthy aims to take advantage of the depleted defense. He’s been extremely efficient with 14 TD passes against two interceptions this season. His favorite target, Ronnie Bell, has 45 catches for 597 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 10 games.

The Wolverines are 27-19-2 in the all-time series against Illinois, but have dropped two of their last three contests against their conference rival.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) runs the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois star RB Chase Brown (leg) ‘trending in right direction’

Illinois running back Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, is “trending in the right direction” after injuring his right leg late in Saturday’s loss to Purdue, coach Bret Bielema told reporters Monday.

Brown needed help getting back to the Fighting Illini’s bench after being tackled out of bounds during the final minute of the 31-24 defeat.

“Very positive and excited, but don’t know where we’ll be by Friday for the trip and Saturday for the game,” Bielema said.

No. 21 Illinois (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) is still in the race for the Big Ten West title and a spot in the conference championship game despite losing to Purdue. Up next, though, is a crucial game at No. 3 Michigan.

Brown has gained an FBS-high 1,442 rushing yards on 280 carries (5.2 yards per carry) through 10 games. He has seven touchdowns on the ground along with three receiving touchdowns. Against Purdue, he finished with 98 rushing yards — a season low — and two rushing scores.

Bielema also said that cornerback Taz Nicholson would be out for the rest of the season with a dislocated wrist that required surgery.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) during the first half against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Nation’s leading rusher Chase Brown hurts leg, able to walk off field

Illinois running back Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, left Saturday’s 31-24 loss to Purdue with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

Illini coach Bret Bielema didn’t have an update in his postgame press conference.

Brown was tackled near the sideline with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and was seen writhing in pain out of bounds while grabbing at his leg. Trainers tended to him, and ESPN reported that his twin brother, Sydney, who plays safety for the Fighting Illinois, was in tears while taking a knee next to him.

Entering Saturday, Chase Brown had tallied 1,344 rushing yards on 257 carries. He picked up 98 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against the Boilermakers, snapping a streak in which he had rushed for over 100 yards in 10 straight games.

Chase Brown didn’t put any pressure on his leg immediately following the injury but was seen walking off the field under his own power at the conclusion of the game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Purdue Boilermakers running back Devin Mockobee (45) runs with the ball as Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Gabe Jacas (17) pursues during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue upsets No. 21 Illinois, forges tie atop Big Ten West

Aidan O’Connell connected with Payne Durham for a pair of touchdowns, including the decisive score, as Purdue upset No. 21 Illinois 31-24 on Saturday in Champaign, Ill.

With the win, the Boilermakers (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) moved into a tie for first in the Big Ten West with the Fighting Illini (7-3, 4-3).

O’Connell finished with 237 yards and three touchdowns on 25-for-40 passing, while Durham hauled in seven of those completions for 70 yards. Devin Mockobee added a rushing touchdown and gained 106 yards on 28 carries.

Purdue took a 28-21 lead early in the fourth when O’Connell found Durham in the end zone from 12 yards out. Kieren Douglas intercepted Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito just under 10 minutes later, and Mitchell Fineran made good on a 25-yard field goal to secure the victory.

DeVito completed 18 of 32 passes for 201 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Chase Brown rushed for 98 yards and two TDs on 23 carries, snapping a streak in which he had went for over 100 yards on the ground in 10 straight games.

Brown also exited the game with 22 seconds remaining with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

The Boilermakers went ahead for the first time at the 6:57 mark of the third, closing a 12-play, 90-yard drive with O’Connell’s 5-yard scoring strike to Durham, who made a leaping grab in the back left corner of the end zone.

That advantage didn’t last long, though, as DeVito threw a 5-yard TD pass of his own to Brian Hightower on Illinois’ ensuing possession.

Devon Witherspoon intercepted O’Connell with just under two minutes left before halftime, but the pick was negated due to a defensive pass interference call on Witherspoon. O’Connell made the Fighting Illini pay immediately, connecting with Charlie Jones for a 32-yard touchdown on the next play to go into the break tied 14-all.

It took just six plays for Illinois to move 74 yards on its first drive of the game, and Brown capped the march with a 2-yard rushing TD for a 7-0 lead.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) runs through an opening against the Michigan State Spartans during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Brown, No. 21 Illinois look to run over Purdue

Things are heating up in the Big Ten West.

No. 21 Illinois sits in first place — just one game above four teams that are tied for second — and will have to fend off one of those contenders on Saturday when it takes on Purdue in Champaign, Ill.

The Fighting Illini (7-2, 4-2) were riding a six-game winning streak before falling 23-15 to visiting Michigan State last week.

Tommy DeVito completed 25 of 37 passes for 288 yards and a pair of scoring strikes to Isaiah Williams, and Chase Brown rushed for 136 yards, but Illinois couldn’t overcome 23 unanswered points from the Spartans.

Now the Illini are in danger of losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“Lot of things to play for this week,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously a Big Ten West opponent. A team with obviously all the things that I know you guys are well aware of within the Big Ten race to get to (Indianapolis, title game on Dec. 3).

“Kind of what we’ve done all year is tried to focus on the moment. We’ve had success doing that seven times and failure doing it twice, so hopefully we’ll be a little bit more in line with those seven opportunities that we came away with the victory.”

Illinois will have to rediscover that winning formula against a Boilermakers program that has dominated the series for the better half of the past two decades.

Purdue (5-4, 3-3) is 13-4 against the Fighting Illini dating to 2003, losing just one of the eight games played in Champaign during that span.

However, the Boilermakers find themselves on a two-game skid after their offense failed to get in a rhythm against a stout Iowa defense last weekend in a 24-3 defeat.

Mitchell Fineran’s 34-yard field goal late in the second quarter provided Purdue’s only points, while Aidan O’Connell threw for just 168 yards on 20-for-43 passing while getting intercepted twice.

The Boilermakers also were hampered by their inability to stop the run, as they let Hawkeyes halfback Kaleb Johnson amass 200 yards on the ground.

Things won’t get any easier for the front seven on Saturday against Brown, who has topped 100 rushing yards in a program-record 10 consecutive games. He leads the nation with 1,344 yards and took just seven games to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, which tied the fastest pace in program history (J.C. Caroline, 1953).

“He’s done an outstanding job,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said of Brown. “He’s one of the best in the country. Their offensive line is big and physical. They’ve done a good job running the football. He’s tough, he’s been tough, he’s physical, he’s got good hands.

“We’re going to have to figure out a way to keep him in check or it could be a long day.”

With a win on Saturday, the Illini would level the all-time series. The Boilermakers hold a 46-45-6 record against Illinois dating to 1890.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) passes the ball as Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Gabe Jacas (17) pressures during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State returns to win column with upset of Illinois

Payton Thorne went 19-of-29 passing for 182 yards and two touchdowns to help lead Michigan State to a 23-15 upset win at No. 14 Illinois on Saturday in a Big Ten crossover.

Jalen Berger rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries for Michigan State (4-5, 2-4), which won on the road for the first time in four tries.

Tommy DeVito went 25-of-37 passing for two touchdowns and Chase Brown rushed for 136 yards on 33 carries for Illinois (7-2, 4-2), which saw a six-game winning streak snapped.

The Fighting Illini went 1-for-6 on fourth-down conversions.

Illinois took a 7-0 lead with 8:03 remaining in the first quarter on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Devito to Isaiah Williams, who caught a short pass, got free down the sideline and maneuvered around the defense to the end zone.

Michigan State cut Illinois’ lead to 7-3 with 1:36 remaining in the first after a 21-yard field goal by Ben Patton.

The Spartans then took a 9-7 lead with 10:21 left in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to Tre Mosley, and then grabbed a 16-7 lead on an 11-yard touchdown run by Jarek Broussard with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter.

The score was set up after Michigan State took over on the Illinois 29-yard line after a punt by Illinois’ Hugh Robertson hit the back of one of his linemen.

The Spartans then took a 23-7 lead with 2:57 left in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Thorne to Jayden Reed.

Illinois cut Michigan State’s to 23-15 with 14:27 remaining in the game on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Devito to Williams and subsequent 2-point conversion pass from DeVito to Tip Reiman.

Illinois drove to Michigan State’s 20-yard line in the fourth quarter, but was stopped on downs on a fourth-and-2 with 8:06 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Illinois running back Chase Brown (2) finds a seam during the third quarter of their game Saturday, October 1, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Illinois beat Wisconsin 34-10.

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Running game critical as No. 16 Illinois welcomes Michigan State

Ranked 16th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season released this week, Illinois has a chance to somewhat avenge its only loss of the season on Saturday when it hosts Michigan State in Champaign, Ill.

The Fighting Illini are unbeaten in nonconference and conference games within the Big Ten West Division, but their lone game against a Big Ten East opponent was a 23-20 loss at Indiana in Week 2.

Michigan State is the second opponent from the Big Ten East for Illinois this year, and doubts about the Fighting Illini stacking up against the ballyhooed East remain.

Illinois has erased plenty of doubt this season and capitalized on opportunities in becoming one of the nation’s most surprising success stories.

The Fighting Illini (7-1, 4-1) have won six straight since the loss to Indiana and sit atop the Big Ten West, one game ahead of Purdue, which will visit Champaign on Nov. 12.

The No. 14 ranking in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll is the highest for Illinois since 2007, and it is ranked by the CFP Committee for the first time ever.

“I think our team will enjoy being talked about,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “It will be awesome to speak of it. But we’re into Michigan State. We’re into what we can do. We want to play Michigan State as strong as we can play them and let the cards fold as they are.”

The defense has been the big story for Illinois. The Fighting Illini defense has allowed 8.8 points per game this season.

The style of play feeds perfectly with running back Chase Brown leading the nation in rushing with 1,208 yards for Illinois, which is coming off a 26-9 win at Nebraska on Saturday.

While Illinois has been one of the country’s most pleasant surprises, Michigan State has been the complete opposite as one of the country’s biggest disappointments.

At the start of the season, the Spartans (3-5, 1-4) were where Illinois is right now — No. 14 in the country.

But struggles along the offensive line and secondary has led to Michigan State losing five of its last six games. The latest defeat was a 29-7 rout at rival Michigan in a game marred by a postgame fight in the tunnel that led to the suspension of four Michigan State players.

While apologizing for the incident and talking about the suspensions on Monday, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker also did his best to make sure his team switched its focus to playing a ranked opponent on the road.

“We’re choosing to move forward and work every day to get better in everything that we’re doing,” Tucker said. “There’s no other choice to be made in how we proceed. That’s how we are going about our business.”

Michigan State is 0-3 on the road this season.

This will be the first meeting between the teams since 2019.

Illinois has won the last two meetings against the Spartans: 31-27 at Champaign in 2016 and 37-34 at East Lansing in 2019.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) scores a touchdown during the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Red-hot No. 17 Illinois visits Nebraska in key Big Ten matchup

No. 17 Illinois will try to keep its unexpected spot atop the West Division standings when it visits Nebraska on Saturday for a Big Ten Conference game in Lincoln.

The Fighting Illini (6-1, 3-1) have won five straight, their longest streak since posting seven consecutive victories in 2010-11, which also was the last time they were ranked this high. They come off a bye holding a half-game lead in the West over Purdue, while Nebraska (3-4, 2-2) is one game behind the leader.

Illinois’ last game was a 26-14 home win Oct. 15 over Minnesota, in which it held its opponent to 180 yards. The Illini lead the country in scoring defense (8.9) and total defense (221.1) and rank second in rushing defense (77.9) and passing defense (143.3). Their 12 interceptions are tied for second-most in the country.

“They’ve got a really good scheme, they’re well coached and they stick to their guns,” Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph said. “They don’t do much, but what they do they do very well.”

Nebraska is 2-2 since Joseph was elevated to replace Scott Frost after three games, and during his tenure the Cornhuskers won their first road game in almost two years and picked up consecutive league wins for the first time since 2018.

“He’s definitely had a huge impact on kind of just what’s happened since that transition,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said of Joseph. “I noticed the difference on offense, defense and really, even on special teams, the way they’re playing the game.”

The ‘Huskers also are coming off a bye, having lost 43-37 at Purdue before the off week. Receiver Trey Palmer, a transfer from LSU, had seven catches for a school-record 237 yards with two touchdowns.

For the season, Palmer has 781 receiving yards, only 223 behind the single-season school record with at least five games to go. But he’ll likely be matched up against Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who on Monday was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award given to college football’s top defensive back.

“Pretty big accomplishment for a guy that I think preseason probably didn’t have a lot of preseason hype,” Bielema said of Witherspoon, a junior who is second in FBS with 11 passes defended.

Quarterback play will be a big factor in this matchup. While Illinois is tops in the conference in defending the pass, Nebraska is last, meaning Illini senior Tommy DeVito could be in for another big game.

The Syracuse transfer was 25 of 32 for 252 yards and a TD against Minnesota and for the season is completing 70.4 percent of his passes. Nebraska junior Casey Thompson is at 64.1 percent, and his eight interceptions are tied for second-most in the conference, but he threw for 354 yards at Purdue and has topped the 300-yard mark three times in 2022.

The game also will feature the nation’s leading rusher in Illinois junior Chase Brown, who has run for 1,059 yards.

Illinois has won the last two meetings against Nebraska, including a 30-22 home victory to open the 2021 season. The Cornhuskers are 6-3 in the series since joining the Big Ten.

–Field Level Media

Illinois running back Chase Brown (2) finds a seam during the third quarter of their game Saturday, October 1, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Illinois beat Wisconsin 34-10.

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RB Chase Brown, No. 24 Illinois take on Minnesota

If it weren’t for one other running back, Illinois’ Chase Brown would have the longest streak in the nation of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards.

That other running back happens to be Mohamed Ibrahim, who will be on the opposite sideline on Saturday when the No. 24 Fighting Illini clash with Minnesota in a Big Ten game in Champaign, Ill.

Brown has been a workhorse for Illinois (5-1, 2-1), eclipsing the 100-yard mark on the ground in seven straight games dating to last season.

With 879 yards, Brown is the nation’s leading rusher and averages the second-most rushing yards per game (146.5) in the FBS. He ran for 146 yards on 31 carries in the Illini’s 9-6 win over Iowa last Saturday, which extended their win streak to four games and propelled them into the Top 25 for the first time since 2011.

“When (the ranking) came through (Sunday), just sat there for a moment, kind of digested it and thought about. I thought it was a good thing,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “It’s a product of what they’ve built and what they’ve tried to accomplish, but it’s definitely not our ending point. It’s hopefully just a catalyst in our future.”

However, Ibrahim is one step ahead of Brown — or six — considering he’s rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games.

The Golden Gophers (4-1, 1-1) were without Ibrahim in last weekend’s game against Purdue, and they paid the price for it. Offense was hard to come by, as Minnesota fell 20-10 in its first loss of the season.

Although it wasn’t the result Minnesota was looking for, coach P.J. Fleck was still able to take some positives from the outcome.

“Anything that could have went wrong in that game went wrong. But again, that’s college football,” Fleck said. “This football team got a chance to see that you’re human, you’re going to keep fighting human nature, but that’s the hard part about college football is you’ve got to find a way to overcome the human nature piece of that.”

Fleck realizes facing the Illini won’t be easy, though.

“They do what they do extremely well,” he said. “They’re all on the same page. … They want to just beat you up, and they’ve done that to a lot of people this year.”

Illinois has outscored opponents 156-48 this season and has allowed more than 10 points just once. Its defense also has given up just one touchdown during its winning streak.

Defense will be all the more important on Saturday because it looks as if Illinois starting quarterback Tommy DeVito won’t play.

DeVito exited the game against Iowa with an ankle injury, and Bielema said Monday it isn’t realistic to factor him into this week’s game plan.

One of the leaders of the Illini defense has been linebacker Seth Coleman, who has 21 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks through his first six games.

“He goes to work every day. He has improved every game,” Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “Really proud of him and the work he’s put into it.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Luke Gaffney (51) and defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness (91) tackle Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Tommy DeVito (3) during the first half at Memorial Stadium. DeVito was injured on the play. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois QB Tommy DeVito (ankle) uncertain vs. Minnesota

The status of Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito for Saturday’s game against visiting Minnesota isn’t yet known.

DeVito injured his left ankle during the first quarter of the Illini’s 9-6 victory over visiting Iowa last Saturday.

According to Illinois coach Bret Bielema, DeVito is one of many injured starters. The list includes receiver Isaiah Williams, defensive back Taz Nicholson and linebacker Isaac Darkangelo, who have undisclosed ailments.

“Really all the guys that are injured, I don’t think any of them will be a season-ending (injury) or anything along that line,” Bielema told reporters. “I think we are fortunate this week, obviously with Minnesota, then have the bye week coming out of it.

“The majority of all those guys should be back in time (for Nebraska on Oct. 29). But I don’t know how realistic it is for any of those four or five guys to be projected into being in this week’s plan.”

DeVito, a transfer from Syracuse, has passed for 1,163 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions for Illinois (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten).

Artur Sitkowski replaced DeVito against Iowa and completed 13 of 19 passes for 74 yards and one interception. He would start against Minnesota (4-1, 1-1) if DeVito can’t play.

–Field Level Media