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Gameday Observations: Illinois

As the great Willie Nelson once said, “I just can’t wait to get on the road again.” Big Ten road trips are incredibly fun, even when they involve driving almost 10 hours each way. Even though Illinois wasn’t exactly stiff competition, the atmosphere lived up to the hype and Memorial Stadium was awesome.

Here’s what else we saw this weekend in Champaign:

  • Despite the long drive to Champaign and inconvenient Friday night kick, Penn Staters turned out in droves for the game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No fanbase travels better than Penn Staters.
  • Unsurprisingly, Illinois tailgating didn’t live up to Penn State tailgating. Most of the lots around the stadium weren’t packed to the brim. I’ll give credit where credit is due, though, to the Illini fans who went all out for their tailgates. They were resourceful for a Friday night kick and made the best use of their limited tailgating time by ordering pizza.
  • For those not holding their own tailgates, Illinois reserved one field next to the stadium for what seemed like a mini-festival. A stage on one side was occupied by a DJ playing EDM music and an atmosphere that seemed more like a rave than college football pre-game festivities. A stage on the other side held a band playing the most backwoods country music there is. Walking through this lot truly felt like an alternate reality.
  • Memorial Stadium is bordered by construction of what appeared to be Illinois’ practice complex. This made it exponentially harder to get to stadium entrances, but I guess it’s probably what we have to look forward to in a few years with the impending Beaver Stadium renovations.
  • The stadium is also right next to a huge cemetery. This wasn’t so bad walking to the game, but creepier walking out of the game in the dark with fewer people around.
  • Even with its somewhat unpleasant surroundings, Memorial Stadium was awesome — and maybe a glimpse at some of what we can expect from the aforementioned Beaver Stadium renovations.
  • I also don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that seats at some stadiums are level with the field. Imagine Penn State’s rent-a-cops trying to prevent the student section from storming the field if they were literally a step away. (To be fair, the Illini student section behind the end zone was considerably higher up than the sidelines, and probably even higher up than Penn State’s student section.
  • The best part of the close seating was that it gave the crowd the opportunity to interact with the players after the game. After singing the alma mater mere feet from the Nittany Lions, fans were able to say hi and high five them. This was especially cool when players got to see their families immediately and hear them sing their praises. 

There’s no better time for a game than at night. Catch us back next week with observations from Penn State’s White Out clash with Ohio State. It’s bound to be a wild one.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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