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Watch now: Illinois football developing lethal one-two punch in running game

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CHAMPAIGN — When Illinois' offense was shown a "Barge" package it would use against Penn State with two extra linemen on the field (along with two tight ends), Chase Brown couldn't help but smile.

"When I saw that going in on Sunday night, I was excited about it," said the sophomore tailback. "It looks crazy, but it was a lot of fun."

Brown and freshman Josh McCray definitely went crazy on the field and, in the process, left Penn State's defense upfront battered and bruised.

With Brown carrying 33 times for 223 yards and McCray handling 24 carries for 142 yards, the Illini controlled the clock against No. 7-ranked Penn State last Saturday in Happy Valley. Illinois eventually won in an NCAA-record nine overtimes, 20-18.

The elusive 5-11, 205-pound Brown and powerhouse 6-1, 240-pound McCray are forming a potent 1-2 punch. Brown is only the third Illini back in history — joining Howard Griffith and Rashard Mendenhall — to record two 200-yard plus games in a season after a 257-yard effort earlier against Charlotte, while McCray enjoyed his second 100-yard game (167 vs. Purdue).

Brown increased his season rushing total to 637 yards, third in the Big Ten per game (106.2 yards), with McCray 11th with 476 yards (67.4 per game).

"We're just energy boosters that just keep on feeding off each other's energy," said McCray.

Illinois Penn St Football

Illinois running back Chase Brown (2) carries against Penn State during Saturday's game. Brown ran for 223 yards and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Penn State came into the game allowing only 110.3 yards per game on the ground. If the Nittany Lions were expecting the same Illinois offense that surrendered meekly to Wisconsin in a 24-0 loss on Oct. 10 before the Illini's bye week, instead it got a heavy dose of Brown & McCray.

"It doesn't give the defense a break, right?" said Brown after Tuesday morning's practice at Memorial Stadium. "We have two different running styles, but complement each other well."

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema and his staff decided during the Illini's bye week to give Penn State a new wrinkle.

"We felt there were some things we needed to do to maximize our personnel to do what we do best. That's why we went to it," said Bielema. "To get seven linemen on the field gave a chance for some wideouts to get a breather."

Brown said having so many offensive linemen on the field "is a running back's dream."

"It wears on them (the defense) when they're taking a pounding. They have to fit up on our linemen the entire time. It's not easy," said Brown. "When you have big bodies up like that it gives you more time to see what's going on up front."

Brown, who was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, said he and McCray formed a connection as soon as fall practice began with their lockers next to each. They also spend time off the field together as well.

Although they come from different areas -- Brown from London, Ontario, and McCray from Enterprise, Ala. -- their bond is becoming as close as their numbers (McCray 0 and Brown 2).

"We meshed and supersized since I first got on campus," said McCray, who admires Brown's footwork. "We're just talking every day and building a strong connection."

Bielema wants to make sure the Illini's celebration doesn't last too long after the biggest victory of his first season.

Illinois (3-5 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) looks for its first winning streak this season when it entertains Rutgers (3-4, 0-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

"Because there's not been a great amount of success over a period of time these guys haven't learned the expectation is what happened Saturday (against Penn State), not the exception," said Bielema. "Congrats, you did your job. Let's go forward."

Wide receiver Isaiah Williams, who caught a two-point conversion pass in the eighth overtime, said the win provides plenty of momentum heading into Rutgers.

"We have the talent and the right coaches," said Williams. "All we have to do is do it on a consistent basis."

Brown, who left in the second overtime with an unspecified injury but said he is fine, believes the Penn State victory should fuel the Illini for the final stretch of the season.

And, who knows, maybe an extra game.

"We played really well, but we still have four games left. It would be even better if we went to a bowl game," said Brown. "We have to just keep getting better at what we do and keep on working hard."

Minnesota game

The Big Ten has announced Illinois' game at Minnesota on Nov. 6 will be televised on ESPN2 and start at 11 a.m.


Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_benson

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