Game Preview: Redbox Bowl
Playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2014, the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6, 4-5) will take on the California Golden Bears (7-5, 4-5) in the second edition of the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
In front of what will likely be a majority Cal-supporting crowd, given Levi’s Stadium proximity to California Memorial Stadium, the upstart Fighting Illini will have their work cut out for them. Still, surprising the experts is something Illinois has done all year.
By upsetting then-No. 6 ranked Wisconsin 24-23 and ultimately falling in the season finale by 19 points at home to 3-9 Northwestern, the Fighting Illini have demonstrated absurd inconsistency under fourth-year head coach Lovie Smith.
Michigan transfer Brandon Peters has led the aerial attack by passing for 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions. However, Peters has failed to complete over 55 percent of his passes, which has led to Illinois completing under 34 percent of its third down attempts, ranking 13th in the Big Ten.
Rushing the ball has proved difficult for the Fighting Illini as well. Running backs Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin have combined for under 1,200 yards rushing. It’s the defense that ranks third in the country in turnovers created with 28 that will help Illinois keep the scoring down. While the offense may struggle to put up points, expect a defense led by linebacker Dele Harding and his team-leading 143 tackles and three interceptions to lead the way.
For the Golden Bears, they go as far as quarterback Chase Garbers does. The Golden Bears are 6-2 when Garbers plays, yet 1-3 when ceding the reigns to UCLA transfer Devon Modster. Garbers missed four games earlier in the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Arizona State, during which the Cal offense sputtered.
As expected under defensive-minded third year head coach Justin Wilcox, Cal boasts one of the best defenses in the conference. Giving up a tick over 22 points per game, the Golden Bears have the third best scoring defense in the Pac-12.
Record-setting leading tackler Evan Weaver, who has 173 tackles on the year, will be all over the field defensively to cause problems for Peters and company. Linebacker Cameron Goode, who has a team-best 8.5 sacks on the season, will be in the backfield as well against an Illinois offensive line that has given up 37 sacks on the season.
Expect a defensive struggle between these two teams, however not at quite the level of last year’s 7-6 final between the Oregon Ducks and Michigan State Spartans. Peters will have a difficult time throwing downfield against a good Cal secondary led by defensive back Camryn Bynum, especially with linebackers Weaver and Goode in his face all day long.
If Garbers can throw the ball efficiently and scramble when necessary, as well as establish a run game with running back Christopher Brown Jr. healthy, the Golden Bears should be able to win a low scoring contest in Silicon Valley.
Prediction: Cal 24, Illinois 17
Andrew Destin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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