Gameday Observations: Illinois
Penn State football is heading home undefeated.
The Nittany Lions took down Illinois Saturday in a defensive standout in Champaign, Illinois, as Penn State improved to 3-0 on the season. Touchdowns from Kaytron Allen, Nick Singleton, and Tyler Warren supplemented Alex Felkins’ field goals and the defense’s five turnovers.
Our writers and photographers traveled more than 600 miles to watch some good old-fashioned Big Ten football. Between the corn, more corn, and the occasional person, we found some ~ interesting ~ things out west.
Illinois Isn’t In The Middle Of Nowhere… It Is Nowhere
Let’s be clear. Penn State isn’t exactly a city school. As I like to say, once you leave State College, you have to drive for three hours to find any other civilization (Harrisburg doesn’t count).
But Champaign, Illinois, is shockingly isolated. Even when our car’s GPS system said that we were five minutes away from campus, our Subaru Ascent was surrounded by corn. We couldn’t even see a farmhouse, just a broken-down billboard that briefly convinced us it was a house.
It took a few more minutes on the highway to reach a semblance of a town, and we quickly became very confused as to what was downtown Champaign, what was campus, and what might have been a different town altogether. Plus, there was no Wawa.
This Is Your Crowd?
Penn State football fans are spoiled. The team draws more than 100,000 people to just about all of its games. Even 108,000 people turned up to watch Penn State play Delaware, an FCS program.
So it was a little shocking when Illinois’ “Orange Out” against the Nittany Lions drew under 50,000 people in a stadium with a capacity of 60,000. Sure, the Fighting Illini aren’t doing great right now, but they were supposed to be good this year. And for the most part, the game was competitive, even if that was to the chagrin of Penn State fans.
They call it an "Orange Out." pic.twitter.com/aEwIEOK7Zt— Onward State (@OnwardState) September 16, 2023
The student section was unorganized, sat down at various media timeouts, and was mostly gone by the fourth quarter. It certainly wasn’t the best showing behind the west end zone.
This Is Your Tailgating Scene?
Again, Penn State sets a high standard for tailgating. In its defense, Illinois fans had an 11 a.m. kickoff, not a noon start. From our glance at the tailgating lots walking into the stadium, those things were bare. Penn Staters are out and drinking at 6 a.m., but the Illini were nearly no-shows at 8:30 a.m.
Still, we owe some props. There were a few groups hanging around our parking lot well after the game was over watching more college football. It seemed most students had gone to play intramural soccer by 5:30 p.m., though.
OK, The Band Was Cool
Illinois’ band wasn’t the Blue Band, but it was still a pretty good showing. The band managed to create an outline of its home state and played some pretty good Taylor Swift.
What really got our attention, however, was where the band was seated. While Penn State inserts the band into its student section, Illinois had special seating for its band directly below the student section. The design put the band right behind the end zone, and in a case where the student section seemed invested in the game, could have gotten them involved more.
White Jerseys Are ~Attractive~
Penn State’s white jerseys came back in full force Saturday for the team’s first away game, and gosh, how we’ve missed these.
Nothing against the basic blues, but something about the white jerseys just hits different. They have a crisp look that really pops against the field.
The vibes increase, the game seems to matter more, and the players seem excited to show out on the road. Plus, our photogs got some sweet pics of these bad boys.
Astroturf Is Messy
There’s a reason that Beaver Stadium has a grass field.
Grass may be more annoying to care for, but it’s a lot prettier when you get to see it. Illinois’ turf field had pellets sitting on top of its “grass,” which diluted the way that certain elements of the field were supposed to stand out. The orange end zone was instead a mixture of black and orange, and the pellets got in your shoes as soon as you stepped on the field. I can only imagine how much turf the players in the trenches found in their shoes.
On the plus side, Illinois wasn’t as concerned with the care of its turf field as Penn State is about the state of its grass field, so we were able to go on the field once everyone cleared out. Everyone watch out for CJ Doebler to hear his name called in the next NFL Draft — he ran a stunning 6.11 40-yard dash.
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About the Author
If you couldn’t be in Champaign this weekend, check out the Nittany Lions’ victory through the eyes of our photographers.
‘It Was Beautiful To Me’: James Franklin Praises Penn State Football’s Road Resilience Over Illinois Despite Incomplete Showing
“You’ve got to appreciate winning. It’s hard to do… That was a big-time win for us on the road.”
A late back-handed goal from Sophia Gladieux lifted the Nittany Lions to victory in the wet outing against Bucknell.