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I Like Wins. Wins Are My Favorite. September 16, 2012

I am a fan of a football team that lost 18 games in a row at one point in the late 90′s. Big Ten opponents, non-conference opponents – 18 straight losses.

Within the last 10 years, my team won eight games in four years at one point. Over those four years my team was 2-30 in the Big Ten. Two wins and THIRTY losses.

From 1995 to 2009, my team went to three bowl games. Three. Only three times in 15 years did my team get six wins. The other twelve seasons, we Illini fans were home for the holidays.

So I have learned to never take a win for granted. Even against Charleston Southern, an FCS team with their own burgeoning losing streak. A win is a win is a win. Sure, we might not be able to take much from this game – it’s nearly impossible to tell if Justin Hardee’s eye-opening receiver stats are 100% a poor secondary with no coverage skills or if this kid really might make some noise during the Big Ten season – but we can take the win. A shutout win, thank you very much. With each mile of the drive home, I felt better and better about this dominating performance.

And I swear it only had a little to do with the Kendrick Nunn commitment. More on that tomorrow.

+ First things first. I have to get this off my chest. About the whole usher thing…

In case you didn’t listen to the From The Stands, it wasn’t a From The Stands this week. Because I got kicked out of the stands during the school song after the game.

If you’ve ever been to a game at Memorial Stadium you probably know this. Once the final whistle blows, EVENT STAFF is obsessed with clearing the stands. It feels like C.O. Daniel’s at 1:01 am in 1993. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

I get that the game is over, and their job is to clear the stands. But do they really have to CLEAR THE STANDS? As in, send ushers through to groups of people who are standing and chatting and say “let’s go – time to leave”? I mean, they did a sweep of the West Balcony today not even five minutes after the final horn.

I totally regret deleting that first recording I made. I walked down to the front row to record my From The Stands and waited for the band to finish Illinois Loyalty (which they play as the team leaves the field). Once they started the Alma Mater, I hit record and started talking about the game with some background music. And before Alma Mater was finished, “HEY, YOU, LET’S GO! YOU HAVE TO LEAVE!” It’s a white-jacket EVENT STAFF usher yelling from the concession area. Nice to meet you too, sir. He dispatched a green-jacket EVENT STAFF to sweep me out.

I went up to the concession area to watch. Band still in the stands. Charleston Southern team meeting at the 50. Grad assistants and media still walking towards the tunnel. And green-jacketed ushers going from group to group in the balcony, telling them to leave. 15 minutes after the game and two or three people still lingering? I can see a polite “we need to get the cleaning crews in here – would you folks mind moving your conversation out to the tailgate lot?” Band playing the Alma Mater and HEY YOU LET’S GO? Ridiculous and embarrassing.

Tim Beckman is trying to build a program. Mike Thomas has talked at length about improving the game day experience within Memorial Stadium. And EVENT STAFF wants you to stop mid “great game, wasn’t it?” postgame conversation so he won’t miss Judy Fraser doing the weather.

(Does Judy Fraser still do the weather? Good God, why did I have to drag Judy Fraser into this? Talk about embarrassing.)

To the game:

+ The Mason Monheim & Justin Hardee game. That’s how this one goes into my memory banks. Sorry Reilly, it was great to see you finally show the fans that you can accurately deliver the ball, but I already wrote about that in Rantoul 13 months ago (it was some “accuracy, not arm strength, is his forte” post that I’m too lazy to go find and link). Tonight it’s time to write about Monheim and Hardee.

Every Illini linebacker needs a nickname. Bad News Brown. R-BOB-K (Vic Koenning called Houston Bates a “Rolling Ball Of Butcher Knives”). Since Monheim is likely going to be talked about for four full years, I already have a nickname for him. I stole it from a message board friend. Thanks to IlliniThunder (I can’t use his real name, you know), Mason will now be known as the Monheim Steamroller. And by November, you won’t even remember that I stole that from someone and you’ll all be thinking how clever Robert is. And then I’ll tweet something like “Tiptoe Mike LaTulip”. And you’ll remember.

I asked on Twitter if Monheim was being talked about on the broadcast because my section was certainly talking about him. And I received several “J Leman keeps comparing him to J Leman” replies, which provided me much entertainment. But yeah, Monheim was impressive. Shedding blockers, moving laterally, fighting through holes on instinct. Sure, it’s just his third game, and he has a lot to learn about playing linebacker against Big Ten offensive linemen. But I’m close to adding him to my 2015 Rose Bowl two-deep.

Justin Hardee as well. I was surprised to see Darius Millines start (I thought the ankle would keep him out), but after one catch he disappeared and later returned with his arm in a sling. Which means we now desperately need another receiver to step up. And with five catches for 99 yards, Justin Hardee was that guy today. I was impressed how he adjusted to the ball while it was in the air.

He came in as a raw athlete with speed – a track guy (I want to say he won the 200 meter dash in Ohio? Maybe it was the 200 relay). After first discussing him as a safety, we put him at WR in Rantoul and taught him the position. Now, I think he’s clearly the #4 receiver. And if Millines is out with this new injury (seemingly his 7th injury in the last 2.5 years), Hardee probably starts.

+ Speaking of injuries, here’s the injured players I remember seeing on the sideline:

Darius Millines (arm in sling)
Devin Church (hasn’t dressed for any games)
Graham Pocic (leg wrapped, hobbling)
Nathan Scheelhaase (duh)
STEVEHULL (shoulder)
Nick Immekus (limping a bit)
Josh Ferguson (concussion)
Supo Sanni (do we know? knee? ankle?)
Houston Bates (not sure)
Henry Dickinson (broken leg)

That’s eight of our 24 starters, plus some backups who would have likely played a lot. Hopefully this was a lot of precautionary “we won’t need them against Charleston Southern so we’ll just rest them” stuff. Because we probably don’t have enough depth to survive eight starters out come Big Ten season.

+ Speaking of the Big Ten, HOW BAD IS THE BIG TEN? Wisconsin needed Utah State to miss a field goal with 11 second left to win. Michigan State looked bad. Indiana lost their third straight to Ball State. Iowa struggled with FCS Northern Iowa. Ohio State was tied with Cal at home with 4:00 remaining.

Right now, I think you’d have to say Purdue is the favorite to win the Leaders division (well, Ohio State will “win” it, but they won’t really “win” it). And Purdue isn’t very good. OK, that’s not fair – they’re a nice little team that gave Notre Dame a run. But put them up against Mississippi State and they lose soundly.

The Big Ten is bad. And we only have to beat three marginal teams to go to Indianapolis. Oh please oh please.

+ My favorite play: Donovonn Young running over that poor safety on his touchdown catch. He had done the same on his previous swing pass, but that time the safety had corner help. This time, Truckmaster lowered his shoulder, delivered the hit instead of taking the hit, and continued right on down the sideline for the touchdown. More of that, please, Mr. Truckmaster sir.

OK, so next week probably tells us if we’re going to be able to make that run at Indianapolis. Louisiana Tech comes in averaging 56 points per game. We come in having scored 58 in our last two games. I think we’ll be able to move the ball against them, especially if Nathan is back. But can we stop their offense?

Stop them, get the ground game going, and we can start to think about making a run in what could be the worst Big Ten in decades. Don’t stop them (and struggle to move their not-so-stout defensive line) and we’re probably in big trouble.

Hmmm… this game is a night game. I wonder if EVENT STAFF will start clearing the balcony in the third quarter.

Matt September 16th, 2012

You should forward this to Mike Thomas. He says that he wants to hear about the fans’ stadium experience and this certainly falls under that category. The usher was way out of line.

Other than that, fun win. Big one coming up next week.

PittsburghNellie September 16th, 2012

I love him, but J Leman is too wild for TV. I’m pretty sure he put the crown of his head into his broadcasting parnter’s belly button. It was awkward

LongLiveTheChief98 September 16th, 2012

Agreed with Matt…you need to let Mike Thomas know about your experience, if you haven’t already done so.

I saw that attendance was listed at 45,000. No way…that place looked so bare. At the beginning of the game I’d say there was maybe 32,000 or so. And by the time the final whistle blew – maybe 10,000. Not to say I expect a sell-out with an opponent like that, and the way our fan base has become so apathetic, but when was our last sellout?

I’m continually frustrated by the injury woes of Darius Millines. He has the ability to become our next A.J. Jenkins if he would just stay healthy. Can’t help us if he’s sitting on the sidelines every game. Very disappointing.

As always, excellent post, Robert. And I’m looking forward to seeing what you write about the Kendrick Nunn commitment. Could we possibly also get his H.S. teammate?

Harry Lime September 16th, 2012

Yet J was easily the best of the trio. The play-by-play guy could’t be bothered to look at a pronunciation guide (apparenty a Greek philospher named Nicumacus was kicking for us) and Tony Banks couldn’t stop talking about his own illustrius career.

Let’s not forget Ayoola, who may be 2nd on the depth chart before the season ends.

Guy also got his name wrong.

AHSIllini32 September 16th, 2012

Harry – hahaha good points, Banks is just awful. I hate it when he’s the sideline guy. He sounds goofy and awkward.
LongLivetheChief, as much as we all want to see Darius on the field he wants to be on it infinitly more than we want him to be. Some guys just can’t stay healthy through no fault of their own.
I also agree with those that said you should let MT know about your experience Robert. I’m sure he’d be none too pleased with the ushers.
On to the game, as has been pointed out an endless number of times by you and many others, there’s not a whole lot to take from this game. But I will be interested to see in your Film Breakdown if it looks like we were better with our assignments on D compared to ASU when it was clear there was something going on there.

illiniranger September 16th, 2012

any gangnam style updates?

chief23 September 16th, 2012

Leman actually made the broadcast interesting. I see Missouri (with a freshman QB) beat ASU. At this point I’m pretty sure every Offensive Coordinator in the Big Ten should be fired, it’s been an embarrassing year. And I don’t buy the “it’s just poor talent” argument.

loyalillini September 16th, 2012

Robert, any thoughts about Blackcat? I know you watch him closely. He missed another INT opportunity. We want him to go early in the NFL draft.

Neale Stoner September 16th, 2012

You should definitely inform the DIA. I actually think Thomas wants to fix this stuff. We need people in the stands. Otherwise, who will pay for my dry cleaning?

Thought J Leman was great. Actually provided some analysis of what each team was doing! Tony Banks ,as usual, was practicing a speech for Canton that will never be given.

Thank you, Robert for your always great posts.

KingTalkyTiki September 16th, 2012

Sadly, I totally got “C.O. Daniel’s at 1:01 am in 1993″. God, I hate being old.

Great job as always!

PittsburghNellie September 16th, 2012

Chief23, why don’t you buy the poor talent argument?

Holly September 16th, 2012

Judy Fraser does NOT still do the weather. Thank goodness. But that would tick me off too! Love me some Mike Thomas. Tell the man!

Kokomo Illini September 16th, 2012

While attending the game, I noticed the fans were quiet, and waiting for something good to happen. Fortunately, the defense got off to a good start with the interception by Monheim. The first Ill-INI chant started in the 2nd quarter, pretty sad.

Even though we have won Bowl games in consecutive years, we won’t get fans to return until we can win in the BIG consistently (have a winning record in the BIG), and don’t fall prey to Minnesota every year. After all, “We’re Illinois, and we can’t be trusted”. Get some wins against the upper tier BIG teams, and fans will return to the games. Bringing back the Chief would help too.

Up next, La Tech. Get healthy, get the W and then put PSU in their place by giving them an opening BIG 2012 loss. Keep those W’s coming.

Long live the Chief!

LongLiveTheChief98 September 16th, 2012

@ AHSIllini32 – it wasn’t necessarily a personal rip on Darius, per se…more an expression of my own frustration that he hasn’t played. I can only imagine what he’s going through being constantly sidelined.

I have season tickets this year, and I’m a bit underwhelmed by the crowds I’ve been seeing so far. I’m assuming the turnout and enthusiasm will pick up come B1G play (and if we keep getting some wins, of course), but yeesh have these crowds been pathetic by B1G standards. Mike Thomas has his work cut out for him.

This Louisiana Tech game is definitely the litmus for the season. Get past those guys, and I’ll feel better about our chances against teams that I think are ‘equal’ to us in the B1G (PSU, Purdue, NW…and maybe Wisconsin?). Stumble against this WAC team, and I think we’re potentially looking at Indiana as our only probable win. (and I don’t even factor in Minnesota anymore…they seem to beat us no matter what)

Looking at the latest Sagarin ratings…Illinois is #57. La Tech is #71, with wins @ Houston (#114) and vs. Rice (#110). Yes, their offense has been explosive, but their defense is 121st in points against…and look who they’ve played. I’m feeling optimistic that we’ll pull it off…provided that our defense shows up. Our offense SHOULD be able to move the ball against them.

And hopefully Scheelhaase won’t be too rusty if he’s back.

I’ll be sitting on pins and needles in Section 122 Saturday night.

LongLiveTheChief98 September 16th, 2012

By the way, if you’re looking for what looks to be an interesting computer schedule analysis of every FBS team, check out how the computers think the season is going to pan out for Illinois:
Granted, their current top 124 has Arizona State ranked BELOW us, and La Tech is currently significantly ahead of us. In any event, it should be an interesting game next week.

illinibacker September 16th, 2012

Agree that the event staff went a bit overboard there. At least they weren’t coming down telling you to sit down and stop yelling so loud. — I’ve seen both of those things happen with my own eyes in Memorial Stadium.

My favorite pet peeve with UI staff was back when we had 2 kids under 2 years old you could get them lap tickets for like $5. Well, the ticket office refused to issue the $5 lap tickets for advance games, so my wife or I had to make a special trip each week to get the lap tickets for the game that week — or wait in line at the box office on gameday. …And they required you bring in your regular ticket before they would sell you a lap seat. My wife tried to buy them without her ticket one time and they sent her away. I don’t know if this is still the policy these days, but it was totally ridiculous and un-fan-friendly. I don’t know if they thought there was a big black market for under 2 yr old lap tickets or what?

Chief4Life September 16th, 2012

The DIA/Football Dept. needs to come up with a new position. Executive Director of Fan Experience. This person would tailgate, attend the Illini walk, streetfest, and sit in the stands (and stay in the stands until after the Alma Mater). This person would be incognito, and not have any defining credentials visible, so they would be treated just like other fans. They would sit in different locations each game to get fan feedback from all over the stadium. Maybe they would even have a popular Illini blog.

Robert, are you actually the Executive Director of Fan Experience and this is your board report? If so, I would like the position of Assistant Executive Director of Fan Experience as long as the salary is decent.

Long live the Chief.

Joe John September 16th, 2012

Robert, dont you have a press pass? Why dont you just sit in the press box with the rest of the media. They probably wouldnt kick you out of there.

I think you are being too hard on the ushers…they probably want to leave as soon as possible so the sooner you are gone, the sooner they can leave.

Robert September 16th, 2012

I do not.
And even if I did, the experience in the press box for the spring game led me to renew my season tickets. The pressbox is great for, say, being able to tweet and live blog, but it’s not fun. I’d rather sit in the stands and soak up the atmosphere. However little there may be.
At some point, maybe I’ll get tired it all and apply again for a press pass. But for now, give me the stands.

Illinigrad September 17th, 2012

It is reassuring to be that you want to sit with the troops in the stand instead of the generals in the press box. Insofar as being pushed out of the stadium with a broom, let M. Thomas know. It does remind me of going to a Northwestern/Illinois game several years ago when at the end of the game police lined the field with police dogs and no muzzles. It was a clear signal, don’t mess with us. It also left me with a Nazi-like Gestapo feeling for the entire dumpy stadium and game experience. I was at Northwestern for the Vanderbilt game last weekend and fortunately there were no dogs. Maybe somebody got bit, contracted rabies, and sued the campus for millions. At least the Germans (dogs) were not there.

Illinigrad September 17th, 2012

BTW, the Northwestern dog experience: It was not just a couple of police dogs but about 20 each attached to a very serious looking officer of the law.

sidra1968 September 17th, 2012

LOL at the CO’s at 1:01 am…ah, the late 80′s early 90′s..those were the days!

Anyway, please tell MIke Thomas about what happend after the game..he needs/wants to know these things and hear them often.

Illinigrad September 17th, 2012

BTW, the Northwestern police dogs did not wear purple vests, in case anyone is interested.

MJC73 September 18th, 2012

Hey LLTC – fellow section 122er here.

Illinibacker – my family is just now out of the lap seat days, but I agree the process was such a PITA. Especially on those cold nights if hoops games.

schiavonir September 21st, 2012

I second the notion of contacting MT about your fan experience. Wait, not second – 10th or 15th. Hopefully he knows who you are and that you carry some weight in this corner of the Illini Nation.