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Bar Scenes, Transfer QBs, and Coaches in Shorts: An Illinois Offense Preview? // B1G 2019, Illinois Potluck #2

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Can Reggie Corbin and a couple transfers cure the Illini’s offensive woes? Plus, a guide to Champaign bars—and the best bar scenes in your town.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois
it me, the illinois offense
Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Day 2 of Illinois Week! It’s bleak, and it’s just going to keep getting bleaker.

Now, I’m going to generalize about all of downstate Illinois and re-introduce what I experienced during my week in Carbondale—the pickle-in-a-saison concoction designed by Molly’s Pint Brewpub in Murphysboro. It’s supposed to be a Flemish tradition, as I was told, though...I’m skeptical.

It’s a pretty simple equation, though: Pour saison, put pickle in. You voted, but the results were inconclusive because most of you thought putting a pickle in a saison was a sex question. Whether it’s a pickle in a saison or a shot of Malort, though, Illinois has really failed to give us many positives in the world of boozing.

Booze: Depending on your perspective, though, the bar culture at the University of Illinois either redeems that narrative or just checks yet another box of “sucks there.”

With a changing bar scene, though, including the closures of Firehaus and The Clybourne, Illini students have lost out on signature drinks like Fish Bowls and $5 bottles of wine. Bummer.

And so, we begin: What was the bar scene like in your college town? Was there a signature drink—offensive or otherwise—that you had to get?

babaoreally: The bar scene at Purdue was fine in my opinion. Although I didn’t go out to the bars that much, so that opinion is pretty useless. A friend was staying in a house for a semester right across from Chauncey Village; we would go there to drink beer and then walk over to Jake’s to get free hot dogs. So I would say the best drink at a bar was a free hot dog.

LincolnParkWildcat: I’ll let MNW have the pleasure of speaking of college life in Evanston since I did not attend NU for undergrad and had a very different college experience than everyone else, starting at one school, going to a junior college for a bit, then DePaul in Chicago.

I transferred into DePaul at age 21, so I had to deal with expensive Chicago bars and friends who had to use fakes. Some places didn’t care, some were quite strict. As an undergrad, I enjoyed going to Kelly’s, McGees, Kincades, Gin Mill (RIP), The Apartment, Gamekeepers (RIP) and a place or two near the downtown campus that I can’t recall. Signature drink for me? When it wasn’t cheap beer I went out to a club and one time got a drink called a blue motherfucker: it’s got like four shots of liquor in it and a few of those will knock you out for the night.

BigRedTwice: I didn’t drink much in college, including in bars, so I’m pretty ignorant of what the bar scene was like at that time. O Street? I dunno. There are some good options in Lincoln now for grownups though: Starlite is fun, Barrymore’s, or Eleanora are all favorites of mine.

beezer07: The only two I remember were going to the Nitty Gritty on your birthday for your free mug and free beer and to annoy your friends because Gritty sucks if it’s not your birthday...and Wando’s for fishbowls, which I’m sure were exactly like the fishbowl at any other college bar.

Creighton M: I’m not sure Iowa City’s bar scene is wildly different from any other B1G town, but I will gladly suggest that you all go to Joe’s Place and get a round of egg bombs. Joe’s egg bomb is a pickled (or sometimes just a hard boiled) egg in a pint of PBR. That’s it. That’s the drink. Why put an egg in PBR? I don’t know, why did Alexander try to conquer the world? Because he could.

MNW: It’s wildly different from Evanston’s, at least, where the city of Evanston has made it its mission to run anything approaching “seedy college bar” out of town.

First they came for the 1800 Club, and I said nothing (mostly because I wasn’t a student yet).
Then they came for the Keg, and I said nothing (mostly because those assholes took my fake ID).
Then they came for Nevin’s, and I said nothing (mostly because I’d graduated).

Now there’s nowhere to go out in Evanston unless you want to pay $8 for a Bud Light. Or you can go into Chicago or to Celtic Knot, I guess.

Enjoy the frat parties, assholes!

Ray Ransom: I’m a bit of an outlier, as I was trying my hand at being a musician in college. I played in a band and we had some success playing in New Brunswick and some of the other fine “promising local band” venues in Jersey.

I’d estimate the scene in New Brunswick (where most of the partying happens in my experience—Piscataway is where the football happens) was 50% basement shows at frats (which were excellent and full of Yuengling by the keg) and 50% bar/small venue shows (which were full of Long Island Ice Tea...and more Yuengling). Generally, both types of shows were tons of fun, the Jersey crowd was always rowdy, and I have tons of fond memories from those days. Playing down the shore was even better and Asbury Park is just pretty much the greatest music town on Earth.

Also wait you can put a pickle in a beer? I am very interested in this.

87townie: I was in school in the eighties. Our bar scene is long gone now. But as a bouncer at a little place called the Surf Club, I had front row seats for lots of shenanigans. Shooters were big then - waitresses would walk around with a rack of test-tubes. Each brightly colored tube filled with such delights as slippery nipples, zombies, lemon drops, and sex on the beach.

Our shots were cool. The layered B-52, the Brain (peach schnapps with Baileys looks just like a brain), and Alabama Slammers (pardon me while I gag a little...SoCo and I have a complicated relationship).

Back then it was all neon colors, sweet fruity drinks, and loud pop music. That’s what the bar scene felt like...although the alternative in State College were the loud beer joints like the Saloon, Zenos, the Skeller and the Phyrst.

Those were beer drinking joints—cheap whiskey shots and lots of beer. Lots of beer. The Skeller (may it rest in peace) was the home of Rolling Rock pony bottle cases. Ice cold, waxed cardboard boxes filled with small green bottles with embossed horse heads. They were cheap and good...well, cheap anyway. The bars always smelled of sweat, old beer, and too much Polo cologne.

I recently went back to the Saloon to see an old friend’s band play. You Penn Staters may know Velveeta. Don’t tell anyone, but the guitarist is a townie. Today, the saloon sells pitchers of Long Island Iced Tea. Pitchers!

The ceiling seemed lower. The kids seemed more surly and the beer smell was gone, replaced by an undertone of sour milk and vomit...which brings me back to Illinois football.

Question #2: Offense and Lookin’ Good in Shorts

Football: The dust has settled—we think—around the Illini offense, and...have we learned anything? While the Illini weren’t special on offense--almost exactly middle of the pack in yardage, bottom third in scoring—they miiiiiight have a new QB in USC transfer Matt Fink [he hasn’t committed yet, despite reports to the contrary] to replace the transferring MJ Rivers II (otherwise it’s true freshman Isaiah Williams), an underrated RB in Reggie Corbin, and an experienced offensive line to protect those two. But TE Luke Ford had his immediately eligibility denied by the NCAA because he’s not an Ohio State quarterback [Illinois is appealing], and a group of wide receivers—notably Ricky Smalling and speedy Trevon Sidney—described by 24/7 as “stopgaps” hardly provides confidence.

In year two of OC Rod Smith’s up-tempo system, then, does Illinois take a step forward, or can we expect more of the same from the Illini?

BONUS: Smith is noteworthy for wearing shorts at, like, any time of the year. Is that insane? Would any of your coaches wear shorts on the sideline?

Jesse Collins: I, uh, don’t really drink (anymore at least), so I’m no help here. Anyhow, I feel for the Illini in that it’s like we said yesterday, it’s not a complete abject disaster, but it sure as hell ain’t great. Nebraska’s terrible defense gave up threevety yards to AJ Bush because he can run and can’t pass, but that’s not really a great recipe for success. I’m guessing things have to go up from here for Illinois, but outside of Reggie Corbin—who I legit love watching play—there’s not much there.

As to the shorts question, we’ve got a bunch of young, somewhat ridiculous coaches. If someone dared one of them to wear shorts for the entire year, I’m pretty sure they would do it. This isn’t exactly proof of their sanity—or lack of potential bro-ness—but I’m saying I wouldn’t be surprised to see it.

babaoreally: Illinois will be more of the same on offense this year. Or they could possibly improve or take a step back. Wearing shorts all of the time is weird and personally offends me.

LPW: I think the Illini will be more of the same on offense: still shitty.

Pat Fitzgerald lets his equipment manager decide when the team coaches can wear shorts for game day. I think he usually wears pants.

BRT: Illinois had flashes of offensive competence last year (namely against my team) but I think that unless they really hit the jackpot with the quarterback situation, improvement is going to be a tall order. They could get lucky—but that doesn’t really sound like them.

beezer: On offense Illinois will actually be pretty good! They’re gonna run all over the place, what with Corbin (right? He’s still there and I’m thinking of the right guy?) returning and they just need the tiniest bit of passing success to actually be a threat to score points.

Finally, re: clothes. Wearing shorts or jorts is absolutely a thing that Paul Chryst would do if he ever ran out of khakis and too-large sweatshirts and felt like getting REALLY crazy and showing a bit of kneecap.

WhiteSpeedReceiver: I, uh, I don’t get the impression that Illinois will be taking a step forward this year.

Having a new QB is never fun or good, especially when you’ve been mediocre-to-bad already (I AM AN EXPERT ON THIS SUBJECT!). Having a decent and experienced OL is good, but that doesn’t guarantee anything if the QB is out of sync.

The biggest concern in my mind is going to be where the weak defenses are. The worst thing Illinois did last season offensively was to get Robb Smith fired for putting up the 2nd of 2 of the 5 worst defensive performance (in regards to yards allowed) in the history of Minnesota Football. Without that weak link all that’s left is Nebraska and wisconsin this fall in the West, and they just have 2 of the 3 most exciting players in the division on their offenses to offset that.

I don’t think they’re going to be Rutgers-levels of dire, but I just don’t think they’re going to be outside the bottom half of the league.

MNW: Fun running back(s), green options at wide receiver, transfer tight end? I thought we just did Rutgers Week.

Illinois, for me, depends so much on Matt Fink. If he comes in, I think it shores up the team (and Lovie’s chances at employment) this year, but long-term aren’t we just looking at the peak of Wes Lunt in 2014, followed by his slow slide into oblivion (seriously, that game log is depressing as shit)? I think it comes down to whether Rod Smith can cobble together a mildly-threatening passing attack—perhaps predicated around what they did to Northwestern in the second half of HAT ‘18—to keep defenses from stacking the box and preying on Corbin.

I will admit to asking this question mostly because of Pat Fitzgerald’s odd obsession with wearing shorts—very Youngster Sam of him—and I am of the mindset that shorts on a college football sideline look weird, but then again, we’re long past my opinion mattering for shit.

Creighton M: As for Rod Smith’s offense, I think they definitely take a step forward this year. The Illini offense being middle of the pack stats-wise doesn’t tell the whole story because last year they alternated between being able to move the ball at will and looking like a high powered offense, and spinning their wheels in the mud. They also left a lot of points on the field because of costly turnovers—Illinois tied for the 3rd most giveaways in the league last year. I think bringing in some halfway decent transfers and combining them with a group of guys who now have a full year of running Smith’s offense under their belt will yield better results.

All they have to do now is find a defense and/or defect to the Big 12.

Thumpasaurus: I’m covering these questions in more detail, but the short answer is that there’s a lot of variance.

Factors that could make the offense better:

  • Second year running this offense
  • OL returns four starters
  • New OL coach is a product of the offensive coordinator
  • WR/RB have at least gotten a year of reps in the offense
  • Isaiah Williams is the perfect athlete to run this offense; Rod Smith absolutely loves his potential. What if he could live up to it immediately?
  • Certain QBs that have graduated but not announced a transfer yet may have an impact
  • Tommy Stevens is apparently much more convinced he can start at Illinois than at Mississippi State. Could he prove to be an upgrade to AJ Bush?
  • Trevon Sidney and Luke Ford are probably better receiving options than anyone who played for the Illini last year save Dudek

Factors that could make the offense worse:

  • Zero collegiate starts between all the CURRENT quarterbacks. There’s a reason neither started when AJ Bush was hurt
  • Even with his shortcomings, AJ Bush’s skill set was good for this offense and he executed read options well by the end of the season. Might be harder to replace than you’d think
  • The best OL (Nick Allegretti) graduated and his replacement (Larry Boyd) was kicked off the team
  • Great injury luck on OL last year might mean 3 starters go down...OL is not a deep position
  • The league has a whole year of this offense on film, which might more than cancel out any improvements shitty position groups like the receivers make. In particular, the Purdue and Iowa games are on tape, and unless Lovie has somehow gotten all copies destroyed, there’s one hell of a blueprint for throttling the Illini out there
  • Maybe the new OL coach isn’t as good a technique guy as Luke Butkus

There’s a lot of unknowns. All we know for sure is that the receivers will be shitty.

Poll

How will the Illini offense fare in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Top half of the conference! Shorts for everyone!
    (12 votes)
  • 31%
    Perfectly mediocre.
    (34 votes)
  • 45%
    Dregs of the conference, but not...
    (50 votes)
  • 11%
    The absolute fucking worst.
    (13 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How do you feel about shorts?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Never appropriate for grown men.
    (7 votes)
  • 28%
    Summer or the beach, sure!
    (30 votes)
  • 19%
    Love my cargo shorts.
    (21 votes)
  • 13%
    Any time of year seems fine by me!
    (14 votes)
  • 32%
    Hi, I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!
    (35 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now