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Virginia vs. Illinois Prediction: Fighting Illini Look to Bounce Back at Home Against ACC's Cavaliers

Illini hoping for better luck at home after getting blown out by Cavs on the road last season.

Week 2 of the 2022 college football season will feature several rematches from 2021. One of the more interesting ones will pit the Big Ten against the ACC when the Illinois Fighting Illini host the Virginia Cavaliers.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 2

Illinois (1-1) had to hit the reset button after last week's loss at Indiana. The Illini gave up the game-winning touchdown with just 23 seconds left to play, committed four turnovers, and struggled to move the ball at times. Virginia, on the other hand, won its sixth consecutive season opener by putting on a clinic against the FCS Richmond Spiders.

These teams met in Charlottesville last year (a big 42-14 win for UVA), and now this series shifts to Champaign.

Virginia at Illinois

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Illinois -4.5
Tickets: As low as $19 on SITickets.com*

When Virginia Has the Ball

The Cavaliers' offense begins and ends with quarterback Brennan Armstrong, whose dual-threat abilities give this unit some unpredictability that can give defenses fits. And the Spiders' defense certainly had trouble trying to tackle Armstrong, who threw for 246 yards, ran for a team-high 105, and totaled three touchdowns. If Armstrong isn't doing the damage himself, all of the attention he commands leaves his teammates open for playmaking opportunities. UVA employed a running-back-by-committee approach last week, as Perris Jones, Xavier Brown, and Mike Hollins combined for 153 rushing yards.

Collectively, the Cavs averaged 6.2 yards per run, and Armstrong completed passes to seven different players last Saturday. Wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. (4 rec., 89 yds., TD), Keytaon Thompson (4, 55), Dontayvion Wicks (6, 47), Billy Kemp IV, and Luke Wentz, plus tight end Grant Misch (combined 5 rec. for 41 yds.), and the aforementioned Jones (TD) all got in on the action.

The Cavalier offensive line also did their part, as the left-handed Armstrong was only sacked once, which allowed him to do his job. They'll be taking on an Illinois defense that gave up 330 passing yards to Indiana but limited the Hoosiers to just 32 yards on the ground. On Indiana's game-winning drive, they drove 75 yards on 12 plays in under two minutes (1:53). They tired out the Illini defense, and now Virginia looks to have similar success.

But in order to do that, they'll need to slow down defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton (11 tackles, sack this season), avoid linebacker Isaac Darkangelo (10 tackles), and try not to throw the ball near defensive backs Devon Witherspoon (8 tackles, 3 pass breakups, INT), Sydney Brown (10 tackles, PBU), and Jartavius Martin (13 tackles, 4 PBUs).

When Illinois Has the Ball

Tommy DeVito is still the starting quarterback, but Indiana rattled his cage a little bit last week. Although he totaled 232 passing yards and two scores against the Hoosiers, he tossed his first interception of 2022, took three sacks, and had to throw many passes away in order to avoid the pressure. On the game's final drive, DeVito went just 2-of-4, took the third sack of that night, and saw his second completed pass fumbled by wide receiver Brian Hightower. Indiana recovered it to end the game.

The two bright spots when it came to throwing the ball last week were Hightower (despite the fumble), and fellow receiver Isaiah Williams. They combined to catch 13 of DeVito's 21 completions for 155 yards, and both accounted for DeVito's touchdown passes. 

Perhaps Illinois will lean on running back Chase Brown a little more this week, especially after he gashed the Indiana defense for 199 yards (fifth career game of 140 or more rushing yards) on 36 carries (5.5 ypc). Brown's continued effectiveness came despite the fact that the Hoosiers racked up 10 tackles for a loss. Thanks to big production in Week 0 as well, Brown leads both the Big Ten and the FBS as a whole in total rushing yards (350) and is fifth in the conference in yards per attempt (6.3). With Brown, Williams, and Hightower acting as a three-headed monster for DeVito, the ground game has immense potential.

But the biggest key to success for Bret Bielema's team will be improved play from the offensive line. They cannot allow Virginia to penetrate the way Indiana did. Starring on defense for Virginia are linebackers Nick Jackson (team-leading 14 tackles) and Josh Ahern (5 tackles, sack), along with defensive back Fentrell Cypress II (team-leading 3 pass breakups).

Final Analysis

Virginia hammered Illinois last year. It was a game in which Armstrong recorded 436 total yards and threw five touchdown passes. The Cavalier defense registered three sacks, six TFLs, seven pass deflections, and two turnovers that day. Illinois has improved on both sides of the ball since then, although Indiana did expose some holes last week. 

Illinois still owns a 2-1 overall series lead, and the Illini have home-field advantage this year (they're 3-2 in their last five home games dating back to last year). Meanwhile, the Cavaliers come into this having lost their last two road contests by a combined score of 114-87 (also dating back to '21). If Brown can continue to run the ball effectively, it will help keep the Cavalier defense at bay. But unless Illinois can find a way to slow down or contain Armstrong, and clean up from last week's mistakes, Virginia will even this all-time series at two games apiece. 

Prediction: Virginia 24, Illinois 21

Podcast: Complete Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.

*Price as of publication.