The University of Illinois held visiting Charleston Southern to 125 total yards and eventually wore down a game Buccaneers defense in a 44-0 Illini win on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
With the win, Illinois moves to 2-1, while CSU falls to 0-3.
The Buccaneers first-ever game against a Big Ten opponent came with a typical rude welcome one might expect from a conference known for its bruising style of football, at least from the Illini defense.
CSU managed only six first downs and eventually wore down against an aggressive and attacking defense. The Illini had seven tackles for loss and held CSU to 0-of-14 on third-down conversions.
"We're blessed to take the mission of the University to another part of the country and to Big Ten Country," CSU head coach Jay Mills said. "Obviously this wasn't the outcome we wanted, but we competed admirably. We still have a long way to go to be ready for conference play."
CSU senior cornerback Charles James matched the CSU career record for interceptions with 11, intercepting an Illini pass in the end zone to keep the lead at 13-0 early in the second quarter. The Buccaneers would force back-to-back Illini punts following the interception, but could never find a rhythm offensive against the first Big Ten opponent in school history.
James led a spirited defensive effort by the Bucs. CSU forced a three-and-out to start the game and only allowed, essentially, one touchdown drive in the first half until just before halftime.
"Charles was looking forward to this environment and your best players play well in situations like this, It's no surprise at all that he would get that record in a game like this.
The Illini scored their opening touchdown on a seven-yard drive following an interception on the opening drive by the Bucs.
CSU hung tough until early in the third quarter behind a stingy defense that allowed only 3.8 yards per carry and 132 yards on 30 attempts. The Illini rushed for almost 250 yards the week before against Arizona State.
"Defense did an outstanding job," Mills said. "Coach (Shawn) Quinn had them carry it over from last week. Very proud of them, they played hard. We just kept them on the field too long."
Charleston Southern struggled to keep its defense off the field in the first half. Freshman quarterback Briar Van Brunt had a 54-yard run, CSU's longest run of the year, to turn the field in the second quarter. Perera also had a diving catch in the first quarter to keep a CSU possession alive, but the Bucs struggled to move the ball against an Illini defense which has allowed only one touchdown in two home games.
Up 13-0, the Illini put together a 7-play, 57-yard drive with the half coming to an end to build a 20-0 lead and, seemingly, put the game out of reach. Tailback Dami Ayoola broke free on a fourth-and-inches for 28 yards and the third score of the half.
The Illini would come out attacking in the passing game in the second half as quarterback Reilly O'Toole tossed three second half TD passes to put the game out of reach.
O'Toole finished 26-of-31 for 333 yards and five touchdowns. He hit Lankford seven times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Hardee added five catches and 99 yards.
Ayoola led Illinois' ground game with only 55 yards on eight carries, half of which came on his 28-yard touchdown run.
CSU's Derek Hatcher finished 4-of-11 with an interception, while Van Brunt was 1-of-3 through the air.
Wide receiver Nathan Perera had one catch for 15 yards for the Bucs, but drew two pass interference penalties.
James led the CSU defense with eight tackles, two for loss, and an interception of O'Toole.
Van Brunt carried 10 times for 52 yards, picking up 54 on his long gallop in the second quarter.
Charleston Southern travels to Rome, Ga. next week to face the Shorter Hawks. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. and is the final game before CSU's bye week and the Bucs open Big South Conference play on Oct. 6 against Stony Brook.