Illini look to break dome daze in N.Y.

By Daniel Johnson

On Saturday the Illini will take to the turf of an indoor stadium for the second game this season, this time at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

After the disheartening loss to Missouri at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis earlier this month, the Illini are hoping to bounce back and improve their dome record this week and in week 10 against Minnesota in the Metrodome.

Fans, media and others may like the dome because it takes nature out of the equation, allowing them to keep warm and dry, but teams have mixed feelings. Some teams like to use the weather to their advantage when they are used to playing in adverse conditions. Others would rather play in the environmental consistency of a closed-roof dome.

The dome provides continuity in the weather, but there is a trade-off with the things that teams have to do to make up for it. The dome can often be comfortable in the stands, but on the field the players can become very hot and cramp easily. Those who watched the Missouri game saw players such as Arrelious Benn go down and have to deal with cramping issues.

One of the more noticeable things about being in a dome is that it is much louder because, obviously, the noise has no open air to escape through. The team can prepare for the noise some by bringing speakers to the practice field to blare crowd noise, but the real thing is very different from the simulation.

The defense will have to deal with the noise element some, but I expect the Orange crowd to be much louder to disrupt Juice when Illinois is on offense. If the Syracuse fans are smart at all, the atmosphere should be much quieter when the Syracuse offense is on the field so that quarterback Andrew Robinson can maybe recover from last week’s dismal 7-for-20 performance.

Both indoor and open-aired stadiums can produce tremendous noise with enough people. Junior center Ryan McDonald said that the noise has a different effect that can be very different from the outdoor noise.

“It definitely is a different atmosphere,” McDonald said. “The noise echoes a lot more, and from what I’ve heard about the Carrier Dome, (the crowd) is right on top of you.”

The noise yields another major adjustment on both sides of the ball. Because players cannot hear coaches’ orders and other players on the field as well, provisions have to be taken to make sure that the team can still communicate.

One of the most commonly used solutions to the noise is the use of hand signals. Signals are used on both sides of the ball to denote most everything on the field. McDonald said that before most plays he will point out blocking assignments or communicate with the running back based on the specific play.

Hand signals do have their inherent flaws, though. Last weekend, the New England Patriots exploited one of these when they were caught videotaping the New York Jets defensive hand signals. The signals would be an incredible advantage for a team to have for the next game if it could figure out an opponent’s system. One would think that it would be much less useful in college because, unlike the NFL, teams only play each other once. This is hardly the case.

“We’ve always taken precaution in that (hiding signals) measure,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “We usually have multiple guys signaling, with one guy being the live guy. If they can figure out who that is and spend all the time to do that, then we should obviously have an advantage up front anyway.”

The Illini will need to handle Saturday’s dome with care, but against a reeling Syracuse team, Illinois should be able to better its dome record and get a feel for what to expect in Minneapolis.

Daniel Johnson is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]