Game Day Observations: Illinois
What was supposed to be just another walk in the park noon game against the worst team in the Big Ten turned out to be quite a different chore entirely. Although Penn State ended up pulling out the win in overtime, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed leaving Beaver Stadium — a feeling I never experience after a victory, especially after an overtime thriller like this one.
Here are my observations from the Illinois game:
- Once again, the timing was way off for the team entrance. There was at least three minutes of filler music before the team was ready to run out of the tunnel. The new pre-game entrance is fantastic when the timing is right, but when it’s off, all the energy from the epic pump up video is lost. The timing was also off for the Alma mater, with one part of the student section a half-verse ahead of the rest. Just very awkward all around.
- It appears the days of sneaking your friends into the student section are gone. The vigilant security hired by Penn State for the Michigan game was back again in full force, handing out special color cards required to re-enter each section and marking tickets. It made sense for the Michigan game, but with the student section nowhere near capacity for Illinois, why bother?
- Oh yeah, speaking of the student section, here’s a picture of one section 15 minutes before kickoff.
- There’s no point in going on some moralistic rant about how students don’t show up for noon games. I got to my seat just as the band was taking the field, but on my way up to the stadium, I passed at least four fraternities still grilling and kicking back Nattys with sororities in their yards. I witnessed even more students still drinking in the parking lot with no sense of urgency or time. The fact is, many students care more about those indulgences than supporting the football team. Nothing you or I say will change that. You have your core group of 10,000 or so diehard students who will show up on time to every game, no matter the weather or opponent. These are the same students who will stay the extra day during Thanksgiving break to watch the Nebraska game. The other group is there because going to games is fun sometimes and it’s borderline socially required at Penn State. That’s just how it goes.
- Although inauspicious from the start, the THON Gold Out wasn’t done any favors with the low student attendance. Aside from a few smatterings of yellow, almost nobody paid any attention to THON’s plea to wear gold. The ribbon next to the S-Zone was pretty cool I guess if you’re into that sort of thing…
- It was encouraging to see Penn State do some work on the ground. Bill Belton put in a man’s work, gaining 201 yards on 36 carries. Some of that success was negated by the late fourth quarter fumble, but this is definitely a game for Belton to hang his hat on. Penn State only passed 32 times compared to 48 rushing attempts, which certainly seems unique for this season.
- The Joe Paterno statue made its annual appearance for Halloween. This guy was having a blast all game. Good effort once again and see you next year.
- The officiating was excruciating for the fans actually at the game (I’m sure it wasn’t so much fun at home, either). The teams combined for 20 penalties, a high percentage being personal fouls. Some of the calls are easy to see — Penn State punter Alex Butterworth getting grazed in the foot and flopping to save the drive comes to mind — but others are more difficult to pick up on the replay. The height of this nonsense was when the ref called a personal foul on Penn State but said Illinois initially and had to correct himself. Also, what the hell is a “snap infraction?”
- Arguably more entertaining than the game on the field for the first four quarters, Penn State’s new t-shirt cannons provide for some cheap entertainment. For those of you who haven’t been in the student section this year, Penn State has interns shoot free t-shirts into the stands during every break with these high-pressure contraptions. College students will do anything for a free t-shirt, including mauling the girl they’re standing next to, falling down five bleacher rows, or showering those nearby with nacho cheese and hot chocolate to make the catch. It’s a wonderful spectacle in itself.
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the music guy (@psupj) got at least 30 seconds of “The Fox” into the game day experience. You can make your own judgement there.
- The crowd let out a collective gasp when Christian Hackenberg laid out to stretch the ball across the goal line on his touchdown run. If Darius Mosely (#24) hits him the wrong way…well…let’s just not think about it.
- Allen Robinson was doing Allen Robinson things. As unlikely as it may be, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another season of these two.
- This was just a strange game. The crowd never fully got into it until the very end of the fourth quarter. Everyone knew Penn State was playing poorly and, aside from Belton and Robinson, it was just frustrating to watch. A win is a win, and although beating Illinois is nothing to be proud of, a loss would have been completely demoralizing. So let’s just all be happy about that.
I’ll be back next week from Minneapolis for my first time at the relatively new TCF Bank Stadium.