Happy Monday everyone, since we'll be playing in Bloomington every other year, I thought I'd post my thoughts about the trip I took down there this weekend in case anyone feels like going in 2014.
Coming from East Lansing, the drive was about 5 hours. Or it should have been, but I foolishly left around 1, meaning I got to Indy just in time for rush hour. I'd never heard much about Indy rush hour traffic, and it wasn't as bad as Chicago, but it still tacked almost another hour onto the drive.
Although this wasn't an issue for me, I was told by my Hoosier friends that the road between Indy and Bloomington, IN-37, is a notorious speed trap. It's set up like a freeway, but the speed limit changes frequently and is generally less than 70, and it seems the Indiana staties love catching people heading in for the games. So, heads up there.
Don't get me wrong, East Lansing is my home now and will always have a special place in my heart, but Bloomington is pretty awesome in its own right. It was raining and miserable on Friday night, but the rest of the weekend was seasonably pleasant. The place struck me as the prototypical college town; everything is sort of wrapped around the campus. The natives seemed to think the street layout is confusing to outsiders, but they really only dabble in one ways, and to anyone who has spent any amount of time in Lansing it's pretty easy to learn your way around.
For bars, I visited the Irish Lion, one of those Irish-type places without shamrocks all over the walls, which features yards of beer. By the way, if you get a yard of Guinness, you'll be out of room for dinner. I felt a smidge underdressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, and being soaked from the rain, so I'd call the place good for a nice-ish dinner but maybe not to pound some brewskis.
The people I was there to visit wanted to go to Nick's on both Friday and Saturday night, but the place had a line out the door. It's considered IU's iconic bar, so given that it was homecoming weekend it wasn't too surprising to see throngs of graduates having their reunions there. Still would have like to see it, but c'est la vie.
Instead, we ended up at The Upstairs, a sports-bar type place across the street from Nick's. It had a unique layout, reasonable prices, and pretty friendly people even though I was decked out in State gear. I'll also mention that, everywhere I went, there were plenty of State fans to be found, and for the most part I and my fellow Spartans were not really bothered by the locals, who didn't seem to be expecting even a close game (and after last year, who could blame them).
There were two other places I'd like to mention. First was this little cookie shop called Baked. Think a hipster version of Insomnia. The walls and ceiling were covered in cookie boxes with art done by customers- all kinds of cool drawings.
Second, and perfect for a mild hangover, was the Runcible Spoon, a greasy-spoon restaurant in a remodeled house. Again, kind of an indie place (the whole town has a strong hipster flavor to it), but worth a visit, both for the food and the people-watching.
In some ways, I found Bloomington's tailgating preferable to East Lansing. Because the crowd was substantially smaller, it was still possible to navigate the streets with only minor delays a few hours before the game. The tailgate I wound up at was literally right across the street from the stadium, and as well equipped as you could have wanted. Other than the rabble of drunken students you'll encounter at any college gameday, the fans were cordial. Of course, many of them wanted to discuss basketball, so I was happy to take credit for Tom Izzo's role in mentoring Tom Crean. As for our "rivalry", most of the students and younger IU fans were not in fact aware that there is a trophy at stake when the schools play, and are confused as to why we play every year. So, common ground there.
Memorial Stadium was in some ways about what I expected, and in other ways something more.
The capacity really is not large. Someone told me it fits about 53,000, and I'd wager it was maybe 2/3 full on Saturday. Because IU did so well in the first half, the crowd noise was respectable, but because the stadium isn't fully enclosed, a lot of that escaped pretty easily. They do have a pretty nice video board, for what it's worth, and it looked like the north end of the stadium had been renovated recently. It took me some time to figure out where their student section was, as I think their t-shirts are red and most of the rest of the stadium was wearing red as well and there was not a constant stream of student chants. I heard at the box office that student tickets for this game were $5 (jealous), which seems to indicate they're having some trouble generating student interest. Overall, though, I thought the building was a bit nicer than it generally gets credit for.
My seats were initially on the opposite side of the stadium from the rest of the MSU fans, but I moved pretty early on. Our contingent was of course subdued at first, but starting with the 3-and-out the defense forced right after halftime, we got into the game pretty good, and by the end we were drowning out the IU fans pretty easily. If I had to guess (and I'm probably way off), I'd say we had about 1500-2000 fans in the stadium. Possibly my favorite aspect of being part of the visiting crowd was that I didn't have to be embarrassed by the student section's profanities.
A lot has already been said by ToC's extremely capable analysts, so I'll make this brief. The first half was what it was. Off-balance pass defense which makes me very nervous for Northwestern, way too many stupid penalties, disconcerting lack of push by the o-line against the weakest defense left on the schedule. Fortunately, the second half also was what it was. The defense adjusted brilliantly, I thought Denicos Allen in particular played a great game, and we started to make a little headway running the ball. Also, Aaron Effing Burbridge, who is largely responsible for the raw condition of my throat right now.
Bottom line, even though this was way closer than I might have hoped, there was nothing too surprising. IU's offense is better than they get credit for, and our offense is still coming together such that it didn't surprise me that we struggled. This 4-game stretch coming up could be very rough indeed, but we figured that out some time ago.
It helps to have friends you haven't seen in some time to visit, but I had an absolute blast this weekend. Bloomington is certainly worth the trip, and I just wish I had been a little more proactive in mobilizing the rest of you so you could have been there too. I believe the basketball teams play down there on January 27, so if you're considering a road basketball game, put that one on the shortlist.