As the Memorial Stadium gates opened on Saturday evening, a sight not often seen inside the 61 year old venue unfolded.
Still 90 minutes prior to kickoff, a steady stream of eager students rolled in, looking to secure a spot close to the field in the sections designated for them. For some it was their first ever venture into structure, while others had waited nearly two years for a chance to return. Still an hour before kickoff, sections 22, 23 and 24 on the east side of the stadium were more than half full, while the rest of the stadium remained sparsely populated.
At about that 60 minute mark most of the Indiana players had made their way on the field for their first round of warm-ups — and the energy coming from the stands above the visitor’s sidelines was noticed. It was a topic of conversation when the players went back to the locker rooms.
“I remember when we first went out there we came back inside and we were pumped and we were like ‘man the student section is packed today,'” quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. said of the player reaction to their classmates in the stands.
The Saturday night attendance of 47,417 announced by IU was the second highest for a season opener in the last 30 years. That is particularly noteworthy since the Hoosiers were coming off a disappointing loss, and they were playing an FCS opponent who brought just a few fans. The lone opener that drew a larger crowd in that span was Ohio State in 2017, which is of course a foe who brings plenty of fans along with them.
The crowd for Idaho was the fifth largest at Memorial Stadium during the Tom Allen era, with two games against Ohio State (2017, 2019) along with Michigan (2017) and Purdue (2018) making up the four games with more attendees.
IU averaged 41,244 fans in its last full home season in front of crowds in 2019, and that figure is buoyed again by Ohio State along with a home game against Michigan. The Hoosiers have already announced a sellout for this Saturday’s game against Cincinnati, and Allen hopes it is only beginning of a successful partnership with the program he has built in Bloomington — with the students forming the high energy nerve center.
— Mike Schumann @ The Daily Hoosier (@daily_hoosier) September 11, 2021
“To me, you just create a culture,” Allen said. “That’s just what our student section looks like. That’s what the student section looks like when you come to a game at Indiana. That hasn’t always been that way in the past, but they have been awesome [this season], and I appreciate that.”
Allen sees many benefits to the crowd, and especially the youthful enthusiasm that a student section can bring. It starts with what Penix and his teammates noticed long before kickoff.
“Just the energy that they bring pregame and during warm-ups — just everything that goes into that, to the psyche of our guys,” Allen said.
Of course Cincinnati is much closer to Bloomington than Idaho, and the Bearcats will have a fair amount of their own fans among the 52,626 projected to be on hand for the noon Eastern game.
But whatever the number of Indiana fans, it will be meaningful, and Allen expects that they will present challenges for Cincinnati and future opponents.
“The ability for them to have to struggle in communicating when they’re on offense. If it’s third down and our defense is on the field [it is important] that it’s just deafening to where [the opponent] can’t hear anything,” Allen said. “Everything has to be silent count, communication with hand signals and that gives us an advantage on the snap. All those different things that go into play when you play with that behind you.”
Although the Idaho game got out of hand early and most of the students had retreated to the time-honored tradition of second half tailgating, Allen said he still made a point of going over to the northeast stands and acknowledging those who remained. Some of the players also gave thanks on their social media pages.
Yeahh y’all definitely showed out 🔥🔥 we appreciate you!!🤟🏽❤️ https://t.co/AS5fyImBjp
— Ryder Anderson (@ryderanderson10) September 12, 2021
Now in his fifth year with the program wide receiver Ty Fryfogle has seen Memorial Stadium barely half full, and he hopes this new energy from the student is just the beginning.
“The student section did a really great job coming out, it was really exciting for this fan base, the football team was really excited,” Fryfogle said. “It was just a really great atmosphere on Saturday night, and we are hoping that they continue to do the same thing going forward.”
The fans will continue the trend this weekend for No. 8 Cincinnati. Beyond that, it will up to Allen, Penix, Fryfogle and everyone else in the program to continue their part of the deal.
It was back-to-back winning seasons, a 14-7 record over the last two years, that infused energy into Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. And it will take more of the same to keep the fire burning.
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