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Can’t stop the run(s): Illini Defense, State Fair cuisine // B1G 2019, Illinois Potluck #3

That’s right—a poop joke.

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NCAA Football: Illinois at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Week rolls on!

If you haven’t checked out the morning’s podcast, yet...go do that, and just let the melodic tones of Thump in the background wash over you as you prepare to take in 10,000 calories of Illinois defense and State Fair food!

With three B1G states—Minnesota, Iowa, and wisconsin—tipping the scales at over 1 million visitors to their respective statewide shindigs, fair food is an institution to many of us in the Midwest. But what does it have to do with Illinois Fighting Illini football? What does it have to do with defense? Did MNW really just make a poop joke?

You bet your ass I did. Read on—let’s talk Illinois.

Question #1: Uh...stop the run?

Football: The highlight of the Illini spring game was...the defense? Two pick-sixes might say more about the outgoing MJ Rivers II than anything, but the addition of highly-touted recruit DB Marquez Benson and potential of others like sophomore DB Quan Martin are cause for cautious optimism among the Illinois faithful. But Illinois was still 115th in defensive S&P+ last season.

There’s a more proven commodity, though, and that’s standout DE Bobby Roundtree—the rising junior racked up 8.5 racks and 13.5 TFLs in 2018, batting down 7 passes as well. Add in the potential of 4* DT Calvin Avery, who appeared in all 12 games in 2018, and Illinois might have finally put together a pass rush that showed potential—73rd in front 7 havoc in 2018—and has the talent to produce.

Unfortunately, this is the Big Ten, and there’s still the matter of the rushing defense. The Illini rated 121st in all of college football in that category in 2018, yielding 245 yards a game and almost 6 yards a carry. And there’s no sign that the Illini will be better at stopping the run in 2018. So tell us—can the Illini take the step forward defensively in 2019?

Jesse: I actually like the defense more than the offense. I know, I know, not a ringing endorsement… again. Still, as MNW mentions, there is talent out there to do something great. Defenders usually take a step forward, and I feel like this side of the ball is why you have Lovie in the first place. But, if they let RBs run free like they did last year, it’ll be real bad for them. Trust me, I watched a John Papuchis defense pretend to stop a Jet Sweep.

BRT: I predict they’ll take a step forward, but it won’t matter, because the offense will take a step backward.

Beez: On defense they’ll be bad, is my guess, especially without that one linebacker they had last year who won a lot of OTE Defensive POTW honorable mentions. Basically I’m the opposite of BRT in this and many ways.

WSR: The Illinois defense will be taking quite a few steps forward this year. After the ball is snapped they take many steps towards the opposing ball carrier before tackling him after about a 7 yard gain.

If y’all aren’t stocked up with all of the finest local (and national and international) spirits, I’d recommend hitting up your establishment of choice during their next sale. On the plus side, I do think we’re going to see quite a few Illinois defensive players during the NFL Draft next April. So there is that.

Thumpasaurus: It can’t possibly get worse.

Young linemen will have another year in the weight room,
In the community,
In the weight room,
In the community,
In the weight room,
In the community,
In the weight room,
In the community,

Ray: I have the somewhat uninformed narrative in my mind that Lovie’s Illini teams will have the same vibe as his pro teams. Steady run defense, big play pass defense, offense that just barely gets it done. So far, it feels like that’s the trend, but it’s also hard to observe when you only have a handful of games a year and a few of those are against teams that are probably better than the pro team in Washington (this is a family site; we don’t use racial epithets).

What do I expect for Illinutgers IV, the biggest game of the year for the league, maybe for all of college sports? I expect the defense to yield ground, to give up a few big plays on really dumb mental mistakes, and to make a few ridiculous plays that make the Sportscenter Top 10 (which I mean is unfair because College Gameday will already be there). Ultimately though, our Scarlet Knights will probably be too much, but we’re going to see how this Illini defense fares on the game’s biggest stage, with a nation watching with bated breath.

Creighton: I don’t have anything new to add regarding how bad Illinois is on defense, so let me expand on Ray’s preseason analysis of Illinutgers IV and offer the opinion that Illinois-Rutgers is a bigger game than Michigan-Ohio State because we don’t all know who’s going to win before kickoff.

Townie: Defense is supposed to be Lovie’s strength, right? He named himself DC and promoted his kid to linebackers’ coach. The defense has a slew of new coaches, including the D-Line. So I really have no clue whether they will be better or worse than last year. I’m fading worse, because Hardy Nickerson was at least a full time DC, where Lovie can only be a part-time DC.

LPW: I agree with Townie, defense should be Lovie’s strength, but I don’t think they’ll do a good job. I’m eagerly awaiting Illinutgers IV because it’s the biggest game of the year.


The Illinois defense will be...

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    A surprise! Top half in the conference.
    (6 votes)
  • 34%
    A surprise! Mediocre, which keeps them in a few games.
    (33 votes)
  • 38%
    What we thought—a bottom-tier defense that can’t stop the run.
    (37 votes)
  • 20%
    Dead fuckin’ last. :(
    (19 votes)
95 votes total Vote Now

Question #2: State Fairs!

Food: And while you’re telling us how the Illini defense will fare, tell us how your state..

[/braces for impact]


I’m so sorry.

But for our food spotlight on this Wednesday, we’re highlighting an Illinois State Fair innovation: The Cozy Dog! You’re right to think “that’s just a corn dog, MNW,” but they’re a state fair innovation from Ed Waldmire, Jr., who took his treat, formerly called the “Crusty Cur,” and moved it to the Lake Springfield Beach House, then the Illinois State Fair, in 1946.

So tell us, gang: What’s the state fair like where you live, and what’s the food you have to try?

Jesse: As to the fair, Nebraska is unfortunately lame. It’s mostly generic and I never was a big fan of going. Now, I haven’t been to Grand Island, so maybe the food has taken a step forward? I will be hopefully attending the Texas State fair for the first time this year, though, and I’ll spend the better part of two days accelerating my impending heart attack.

BRT: Nebraska’s state fair is not as big of a deal as other state fairs in the region, but it’s still not a bad time. I grew up going routinely (4-H’er for life) with my grandparents, so I have always had a warm association with it. We always started the day with pancakes (Kiwanis Club stand, perhaps? One of those organizations.) But nothing was better than enjoying a piece of homemade pie with my Grandpa at the end of the day at the St. James United Methodist pie stand. That pie stand operated for over 60 years before the fair moved to Grand Island about ten years ago. In a lot of ways, that pie was the antithesis of state fair food—it wasn’t extraordinarily large, it wasn’t deep-fried, it wasn’t housed in some garishly lit stand, it wasn’t some strange concept designed to kinda freak you out like pickle-Oreo sundaes or something--just good homemade pie.

Anyway, I think the fair experience has improved overall with the move--the buildings are much cleaner and more modern, and it’s a nice time. But it did lose some of those distinctive details that it had when it was in Lincoln. I usually get some UNL Dairy Store ice cream, which is fine—and last year, they had a Scott Frost-themed flavor, because of course they did.

Beez: Never been to the Wisconsin State Fair, but the Chippewa Valley State Fair was consistently awesome and full of funnel cake.

Down here in NC there are oodles of fairs, seemingly all the time. I haven’t been to the main state fair or the local-ish Dixie Classic Fair which, as you might expect, is embroiled in a bit of a “many our fair name should be a racist callback to slavery?” battle. I have been to the now-defunct Rib Festival many, many times, and it is awesome. Ten or so different rib vendors, fried whatever you want on a stick, people watching, etc. Can’t go wrong with a good food-based festival, in my opinion.

WSR: The Great Minnesota Get-Together is the most interesting place you could ever attend in this state. There’s a great sea of people that come in all heights, weights, colors, and smells that gather to watch animals give birth and eat some of the best food you’ll ever find that hasn’t been subject to a health inspection. It’s routinely ranked as one of the best in the country, and it’s one of the few things that most of us will get fighting mad about.

On my annual trip to try to figure out how that lady with the double-wide stroller that just clipped me didn’t notice my lanky [ed. note: “lanky”? Sure...] ass, I’ll share a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies and some milk from the dairy barn with the girls, get some deep fried veggies on a stick, a deep fried twinkie on a stick, some cheese curds (from the food barn, not some random stand), some fresh french fries to go along with a footlong hotdog and some fresh-squeezed lemonade, and a flight of craft beers from the beer building (YES WE HAVE A GODDAMN BEER BUILDING!).

Other favorites through the years have been the Deep Fried Snickers on a stick, the reuben on a stick from O’Garas, the gigantic turkey legs, pork chop on a stick, a shake from the 4-H barn (4-H 4 LYFE!), and many many more DEEP FRIED **insert food here** on a stick that I’m forgetting by my waistline never will.

If it weren’t for the 25-30,0000 steps I put in while watching baby animals get born and taunting politicians from all of the parties and checking out the craft barn and the colleges and universities barn and the dog barn and the various home improvement buildings, I’d feel way more guilty about eating the annual caloric intake of a Minnesota frontier family.

Creighton: You all know about the Iowa State Fair by now. It’s an escalating series of fried food dares. They alternate between frying the unnecessary and the inedible. Also there are butter sculptures and stuff.

I’ve never owned a pig or tried to grow a comically large watermelon or whatever so I’ve never actually been to the Iowa State Fair, so I’m afraid I can’t actually recommend a specific food. I’m sure you could find a delicious fried soup or something though.

Townie: The Centre County Grange Fair is THE fair to go to for the animal husbanders of the State College area. And the treat of the fair in 2018 was the cotton candy burrito…

“This elaborate treat consists of two layers of cotton candy, sprinkles, three scoops of ice cream and a Twinkie. The burrito gives off a sweet aroma and is about the size of a football. The sweetness of the cotton candy is balanced by cold ice cream, making this $6 dessert flavorful but not overpowering.” —Centre Daily Times

It’s about the size of a football, kids. It’s a one stop ticket to diabetes world and you can only get it at the Grange Fair!

Vote in the polls and tell us your favorite State Fair food in the comments!