An impressive offensive performance from the California Golden Bears (8-5) led them to a 35-20 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-7) in the Redbox bowl. It was the Golden Bears first bowl win since 2015. Although Illinois took a quick 10-7 lead in the first quarter, they went cold and were outscored 28-10 the rest of the way.
Cal Wins the Redbox Bowl, 35-20
Even though Cal faced an abundance of offensive struggles in 2019, they didn’t show it against Illinois. As a result, they put up a season-high 35 points against the Illini — they had only scored 30+ points in one game this season.
The Golden Bears passing attack was impressive, as quarterback Chase Garbers completed 22 of 31 passes for 272 yards, threw four touchdown passes, and ran for another score. Wide receiver Makai Polk turned in an electrifying performance, as he caught five passes for a season-high 105 yards. Running back Christopher Brown Jr. was unstoppable, running for 120 yards on 20 carries. He also caught three passes for 17 yards and a touchdown.
A California defense that finished as one of the best units in the Pac-12 struggled early against Illinois. They allowed a field goal and touchdown on the Fighting Illini first two drives and then surrendered a late field goal before halftime. However, they returned to form in the second half and allowed just seven points.
Senior All-American linebacker Evan Weaver finished with nine tackles, pushing his school-record total to 182. He ends the season 11 tackles short of equaling the FBS single-season record. Both junior linebacker Cameron Goode and senior Zeandae Johnson picked up a sack, and senior safety Jaylinn Hawkins added an interception to lead the way for Cal’s defense.
Junior quarterback Brandon Peters threw for 273 yards and one touchdown in his return after sitting out the regular-season finale with a concussion. He also rushed for 68 yards on eight carries. The Illinois running game struggled, as running backs Reggie Corbin, Dre Brown, and Ra’Von Bonner only combined for 97 yards on 30 carries.
After scoring 10 points on their first two drives, Illinois could never find consistency in the offense. One reason for this was three delay of game penalties that hurt any momentum that Illinois had.
“Two of them were my fault,” Peters said. “I just wasn’t paying attention to the play clock.”
Despite outgaining the Bears in total yards 450-395, the Fighting Illini struggled to find the endzone.
“We didn’t play well enough. You have to give Cal credit for that,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “Sometimes yards can be a little misleading. They got in the end zone more than we did.”
Although Illinois allowed 35 points, they gave up under 400 total yards and sacked Garbers three times. They allowed just 123 rushing yards, which was under their season average of 201.6 rushing yards per game. However, not forcing any turnovers and explosive plays against the secondary cost Illinois in the end. They came into the game third in the country with 28 takeaways, but couldn’t force a turnover against a scoring offense that ranked 115th in the FBS.