116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa will come to Illinois Saturday night with an eight-game winning streak against the Big Ten West foe.
But Illinois (4-1, 1-1) has more talent this year than when Iowa walked away with a 63-0 football win in 2018 and a 28-0 win in 2016.
Here are five Illinois players to watch in Saturday’s game:
RB Chase Brown
Iowa’s defense will again be going up against one of the top running backs in the Big Ten this week.
This time, it’s Illinois’ Chase Brown.
Through five games, Brown has an FBS-best 733 rushing yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He also has four rushing touchdowns.
The junior from Canada has been an increasingly-consistent threat in Illinois Coach Bret Bielema’s offense.
Brown has six consecutive 100-plus-yard performances, dating back to last year. Iowa’s 33-23 win over Illinois in 2021 was the last time he didn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark.
QB Tommy DeVito
Illinois did what some Iowa fans wanted Kirk Ferentz to do in the offseason — improve its quarterback situation via the transfer portal.
Tommy DeVito transferred from Syracuse to Illinois and has been a key part of Illinois’ 4-1 start this season.
DeVito has completed 70 percent of his passes while throwing nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Tommy just continues to impress me — just his diligence, his work ethic,” Bielema said after the win over Wisconsin. “He's got a very live arm. He's very accurate, very conscientious.”
The Cedar Grove, N.J., native peaked at Syracuse in his sophomore season when he completed 63 percent of his passes. This year’s touchdown-to-interception ratio also is a career-best.
“I think we gave him a rebirth on life and football,” Bielema said. “I don't know how much he enjoyed the last couple of years there, but he has a lot of fun in our room. We have a lot of fun with him.”
DeVito is averaging 224 passing yards per game. Iowa’s entire offense is averaging 242 total yards per game.
DB Kendall Smith
Kendall Smith is having the best season of his career in Illinois’ secondary.
The Bolingbrook, Ill., native has a team-high three interceptions. He is tied for fifth in the FBS and first in the Big Ten in the statistic with Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, among others.
Smith’s interception last week against Wisconsin set up the Illini in the red zone for the first of their six scoring drives in the 34-10 win.
Before this season, Smith’s role was mostly limited to special teams.
Iowa recruits heavily from the Chicago suburbs, but Smith did not receive an offer from the Hawkeyes, per 247Sports.
WR Isaiah Williams
Isaiah Williams’ nickname, according to his Illinois player bio, is “1.” It’s the number he’s always worn while playing sports.
It’s also fitting because he’s been target No. 1 among the Illinois receiving corps in 2022.
Williams has a team-high 35 receptions — as many as the Illini’s No. 2 and No. 3 targets combined.
His 291 receiving yards are second only to fellow wideout Pat Bryant, who exited the Wisconsin game with an injury.
Williams’ success at wide receiver followed a position change ahead of the 2021 season. The St. Louis native was a four-star quarterback recruit who had scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan and other college football behemoths before picking Illinois.
The results weren’t great at quarterback, though. He had as many receptions as completions in four games as a true freshman. He then completed 41 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman.
TE Michael Marchese
This name might be a little familiar for Hawkeyes fans.
Henry Marchese was at Iowa as a wide receiver, defensive back and special teams player from 2017-21.
His brother Michael Marchese is a sixth-year senior with the Illini.
Marchese is fourth on the team with 98 receiving yards and tied for first with two touchdown receptions.
The tight end had his longest reception of his career in Illinois’ Week 2 win against Virginia. DeVito connected with an open Marchese for a 39-yard touchdown.
He arrived in Champaign as a walk-on in 2017 before earning a scholarship in spring 2021. His experience early on came at defensive back and linebacker, and then he switched to tight end in 2021.
Henry and Michael Marchese’s father, John, also played at Iowa, so this will be his final matchup against his brother and father’s alma mater.