The Juice

Sep 22, 2021

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I guess Check The Tape will come after Craig finishes scouting but before Detlef reminisces this week. There's a pattern to this place in the fall, and CTT usually comes out on Tuesday or Wednesday, but I wanted to talk about the juice first. To say that a different way (with acronyms), look for CHTS tomorrow morning, CTT tomorrow night, and then TWWD on Friday.

Before any of that, though, I want to talk about The Juice. If you need a quick refresher, here's the history.

Six months after his accident, Bobby Roundtree returned to the locker room for the Northwestern game in 2019. This is what he said in his pregame talk:

If you want to know exactly what Bobby meant by "juice", he explained it the following summer when his foundation made #97Strong shirts that said "where the juice" on the back:

After we lost Bobby this summer, I've thought a lot about this phrase. I think of it as a modern Proper State Of Mind. Hmmm... I probably need to backtrack even more here. Let's hit the "minus" button in the corner and zoom out one more time and then I'll begin to zoom back in.

When I wrote the 19 Point Plan back in 2009/2010 (a 19-part series on how to repair Illini football), one of the points was "build on our history". That post mentioned Grange and Butkus, of course, but the very first bullet point was the suggestion to make sure every Illini player was familiar with the Proper State Of Mind speech. It's a speech given by former Illini head coach Ray Eliot.

In the speech, he tells the "send Ameche at me" story. That would be Alan Ameche, one of six retired numbers at Wisconsin and a Heisman Trophy winner. Here's that section of the speech:

1951 is the season that the Boand System recognized Illinois as the national champions (as it did in 1919 and 1923). National championship claims back then were even more fuzzy than UCF claiming a title in 2017, so true national championships are hard to determine. For example, during that 1951 season, Tennessee was #1 at the end of the season. They then lost to Maryland in the Sugar Bowl... and Tennessee was still declared national champions by the AP and UPI because bowls didn't really "count" when voting on the best team.

The Boand System was a mathematical system developed to determine a national champion from 1919 to 1960. It was officially recognized by the NCAA at the time (as were the polls). So by that one metric, the 1951 Illini were the national champions.

And we were the national champions because of that goal line stand against Wisconsin. Wisconsin finished the season 7-1-1 and Illinois finished 8-0-1 (both teams tied Ohio State). So that goal line stand against Wisconsin - where they started on the one and ended the drive at the six - was the reason Illinois won the Big Ten, went to the Rose Bowl (a 40-7 win over #7 Stanford), and then were declared the national champions by Boand. There are only two retired numbers at Illinois (Grange and Butkus) and, to me, there are two epic moments in program history that stand above the rest:

1. October 18, 1924 - The grand opening of Memorial Stadium and Red Grange returns the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown (I'd imagine that the Illinois sideline had a little juice after that). He also scores on runs of 67, 56, and 44 yards in the first quarter and ends the day with four rushing touchdowns, a touchdown pass, and a kickoff returned for a touchdown in a 39-14 win over Michigan. Consider Memorial Stadium dedicated.

2. October 6, 1951 - "Send Ameche at me" screams Chuck Boerio, and Wisconsin does, and Boerio stuffs him, and Illinois wins 14-10. The Illini would go on to be named the national champions by the Boand System after beating Stanford 40-7 in the Rose Bowl.

And then, on October 19, 2024, 100 years and one day after Red Grange dedicated the stadium, the Illini took on Iowa at Memorial Stadium and added a third game to the pantheon after senior wide receiver Deuce Spann.....

Sorry. That's not what this post is about.

1951 is the reason Ray Eliot made the Proper State Of Mind speech. I've referenced it many times in 12 years of doing this. It is, to me, Illini football reduced to pure concentrate. What does this program need? The Proper State Of Mind.

That's why I loved the Bobby Roundtree "where the juice" speech so much. He's saying the same thing, just in modern terms. During the Redbox Bowl when the Illini went flat after starting strong?

What was missing during the UTSA and Virginia losses? JUICE. The sidelines were flat. The opponents on the opposite sideline were going crazy and the Illini sideline was dead. As a Proper State Of Mind guy, I get quite agitated when there's no juice.

If you were at the Maryland game on Friday night, you probably noticed that the sideline energy was different. It was perhaps 10 times as engaged as the sideline during the UTSA and Virginia games. I figured this was maybe an emphasis during the week from the coaching staff (I mean, it was night-and-day different), so I decided to ask about it. A Friday night postgame press conference after a loss isn't the best place for a question like that, but end-of-the-presser on Monday will work.

Here's my question and Bret Bielema's answer:

Earlier in the press conference, Bielema noted that true freshman linebacker Kenenna Odeluga would play this week. He had mentioned how his first transfer (Calvin Hart) was the defensive MVP in the first game and how his notes after practices that week identified Josh McCray (his first HS recruit) as someone who needed to be in the rotation. And then the next week, his second HS recruit (DJ Johnson) got on the field. He also said this about Odeluga:

"This week we'll play Kenenna because he's just continued to be very impressive during fall camp and during drills. He's very athletic, he can run, he can strike, he can hit. Everybody was excited (during the Maryland game) on that Josh McCray play but when I decided I was going to play Kenenna this week was his reaction on that play. Like, he did five bounds and a jumping jack and I swear he did a back flip. It was just this emotion on the sideline. You can't coach that. That's real. That's something that's just part of his personality.

"So I think as we continue to build this roster... every Wednesday night I do six or seven Zooms and I get on with guys that we're recruiting who are either committed to us or that we're trying to get to commit. And when I listen to those guys and I talk to those guys I realize what we're building and what we're doing. I'm not trying to skip any steps to get to where we want to be. And when we get there it will be that much more gratifying."

That's a 9.7 on the 1-10 Interesting Scale for me. I have a lot of thoughts.

First off, he decided to play freshman linebacker Kenenna Odeluga because of his reaction on the sidelines to Josh McCray's long touchdown on Friday. Yes, he noted that Odeluga has been impressive in drills of late and they want to get his "striking" on the field, but his decision to pull the redshirt and play him at Purdue was based on his sideline reaction to Josh McCray's touchdown. That's innnnteresting with four n's.

I was glad he touched on sideline reactions, because that was the question I had queued up for the presser (video above - you should go watch it now if you skipped over it the first time). What was different?

If you weren't at the game, I did take a few videos from the pressbox. I'll link one here as a gif. Here's the sideline during the booth review of the Seth Coleman forced fumble:

Did we win? No. Did we violate the terms of the Proper State Of Mind speech by choosing to not go for it on fourth and one? Absolutely. This is not some article suggesting that we suddenly repaired everything by bringing the juice on Friday night. We led 17-10, with the ball, with five-and-change on the clock, and we lost in regulation. Lonnnng way to go (with four n's).

But this week, I keep thinking about the fact that true freshman Kennena Odeluga will play at Purdue because of his sideline energy. I know I probably lean too heavily into this stuff - a four-star defensive end laughs at a two-star offensive lineman who is playing with great energy and effort and just shoves him aside on his way to the quarterback - but Bielema's answer in the video above was in the top-10 of "times I came close to cheering in the pressbox". It's exactly what I want to hear.

Now, we've heard it before with no application. Look at basketball. There were TNT wristbands ("Toughness N Togetherness"), worn to symbolize what the program will be, and nothing happened. After that coach was fired an a new coach installed his culture, we had one of the most "tough and together" teams I can remember. This team loses their All-American and wins at Wisconsin, at Michigan, and then at Ohio State (with the All American back). There's always a line between "say you're going to do it" and "actually do it", and we've seen that with the last two rebuilding projects in the State Farm Center.

And now, once again, I'm hopeful a rebuilding project will actually work in Memorial Stadium. Perhaps, finally, an Illinois coach will "get the boys in the proper state of mind." And I want to close here by typing out the last part of Bret Bielema's answer above. The part about "strain":

"(McCray's) first play - the pass play - was a bust, right? The great players I've been around are the ones that when even it's wrong, it's right. And the reaction from the people is huge.

"When that play erupted and I knew that run I was waiting for him to get in the endzone, right? Tip Reiman blocked three people on that play. Casey Washington, who was an outside, perimeter receiver - he runs a decoy route and drags his defender out of bounds by simply putting his hands out. And the only reason that DB turned around was the roar of the crowd turned him around and then he was greeted by Enterprise, Alabama about 10 feet away from him and he had to make a split-second decision on how he wanted to tackle that guy.

"There were several things on that play. Luke Ford had an unbelievable turn-out block which really made the play happen. So there's the energy of that, but the point I made on Sunday (in a team meeting), I talked about the word 'strain'. Strain on the field is easy to see. The strain of Casey Washington running a decoy route versus Tip Reiman blocking three people, his strain is totally different but the effect is the exact same. We had a successful play.

"But I showed the sidelines, and I circled Kenenna, and I showed what 'strain' was for him on that play. He cheered louder than anybody in that stadium. And that's the stuff that will make a difference.

"It's not going to be a great article for you guys, and it's not going to be a great clip, but it's what I know works. And that's what I have to instill."

I don't know, coach. I'd say it makes a pretty good article.


Brave Illini on September 22, 2021 @ 09:59 PM

Yes, sir. No doubt, emotion can elevate performance. Let it spread throughout Illini nation, like a tsunami.

uilaw71 on September 22, 2021 @ 10:09 PM

Way cool.

EastSide105 on September 23, 2021 @ 02:01 AM

Great article. I was watching the pressor and loved when BB said the DB turned around and was greeted by Enterprise, Alabama.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on September 23, 2021 @ 03:09 PM

That smile. . .in the middle of your question. . .as you said "a lot" tells me everything I need to know.

San Joaquin on September 23, 2021 @ 03:18 PM

great piece

Illinir1 on September 24, 2021 @ 01:06 AM

Great article Robert. There were two things at last Friday night's game that I observed and thought "we haven't seen this from Illinois football in many years": 1. A full and energized student section that was clearly having fun (for example, the glow thunder sticks snake) 2. The energy, excitement, and cheerleading from the Illini bench that was fully engaged and clearly having fun. I think Coach B knows what it takes and will provide the leadership to make Illinois football successful and fun again.

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