Cal vs. Illinois: Redbox Bowl fearless prediction and game preview.
Cal vs. Illinois: Redbox Bowl Broadcast
Cal (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) Game Preview
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Three Reasons Why You Should Watch The Redbox Bowl
– Illinois? In a bowl game? It wasn’t consistent, and it wasn’t smooth, but the Fighting Illini got to six wins and will go bowling for the first time under Lovie Smith and the first time since getting whacked by Louisiana Tech 35-18 in your 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. This is hardly anything normal for the program.
This is just the sixth bowl appearance since the 2001 season – finishing with a 47-34 loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Going to bowls is a big deal, and winning them is even bigger. Since 1982, Illinois is 5-10 in these things. Win, and it’ll be the first winning season since 2011 – which was the last time the program won a bowl game.
– It’s mea culpa time for the Cal Bears after their part in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl – a 10-7 overtime loss to TCU that might have been the worst sporting event in the history of recorded man. That was the program’s third bowl loss in its last four tries, but that all comes after a great run from 1990 to 2011 with an 8-2 bowl record. The program is building up under head coach Justin Wilcox, with two straight bowl trips and a chance at the first eight-win season since 2009.
– This isn’t going to be a high-flying offensive fun show, but it should be close. Both teams are going to bring the effort and be fired up to be there, and each of the last four Redbox/Foster Farms bowls were decided by a touchdown or less.
Yeah, it’s in Santa Clara – where college football games go to die – but in the middle of the day with Mississippi State and Louisville going at it at the same time in the Music City Bowl, this should be a fight.
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Why Illinois Will Win
– The Illini pass rush has to get going right away. The defense might not be anything special, and it can get pounded on, but there’s more than enough pressure into the backfield to to clamp down on mediocre passing games. The Cal offensive line doesn’t do anything for the running game, and it’s a disaster in pass protection.
The Bears were dead last in the Pac-12 allowing close to 3.6 sacks per game, and Illinois has the ability to at least apply pressure. The sacks have come to a dead stop late in the regular season, but on the year, the team is 5-1 when generating two sacks or more. That all ties into …
– Turnovers. Illinois can’t win without forcing a few of them. There isn’t enough offense from the Illini to get too excited about, but if this turns into the close, low-scoring game, it’ll probably be a few takeaways – Cal pitched five of the nine interceptions thrown in last years’s Cheez-It – that makes the difference. The Bears are -14 in turnover margin in their five losses, and Illinois is +11 on the season having lost the turnover battle just twice.
– It’s relatively simple. Cal loses when it can’t get to 300 yards of total offense. Most teams lose when it can’t do that, but even for a team that relies on defense as much as the Bears do, this matters.
They’re 1-5 when they don’t hit the 300 mark – only getting by North Texas in mid-September – and Illinois has enough defensive talent and ability to make that happen.
For Illinois, though, it’s mostly about keeping games in range. It was able to somehow get past Michigan State despite getting destroyed – a late gag by the Spartans helped that – and that means the D has to keep teams under five yards per play. Illinois is 4-0 when it’s able to do that, and Cal has averaged four yards per play or fewer six times in the last ten games.
Why Cal Will Win
– The Cal offense started to work late in the season, and that’s because of QB Chase Garbers. Out for a long stretch in the midseason, Cal lost four straight games he found his groove again late in the year with a good passing game to get the Bears by Stanford and UCLA on the road.
This might not be an explosive Cal offense, and the running game isn’t there, but it’s been able to manage 400 yards or more in three of the last four games. Get to 400 yards, and Cal 5-0. Illinois is 2-5 when allowing 400 yards or more, and it took meltdowns by Wisconsin and Michigan State to get those two wins.
– Can Illinois get anything out of its quarterbacks? Brandon Peters came up with two big-time throws late against Wisconsin, and he led the big comeback to beat Michigan State. That was about all he could do this year – throwing 17 touchdown passes and seven picks – before getting hurt against Iowa. He missed the Northwestern game with a concussion, and the offense went nowhere under freshman Matt Robinson in the loss. Peters is back, though.
– Evan Weaver wants to tackle you. The nation’s leading tackler by a mile – the Cal star has 26 more tackles than the No. 2 man, Dele Harding of Illinois. He averages close to 14.5 stops per game, Harding averages just over 12 per game, and only three others average 11 or more. He’ll get all over the place against the mediocre Illinois running game and should be in on double-digit stops, with plenty of plays in key moments.