As for the offense, Beau Baldwin’s unit has struggled to put up points this year. The Golden Bears offense has only surpassed 30 points once on the season, during a 33-20 home victory against the Washington State Cougars.
They tend to run a fairly straightforward spread attack, and often do much of their damage through the air when quarterback Chase Garbers is active. Garbers has played in 8 games this year, and has accumulated 1,500 passing yards to go along with 10 passing touchdowns against 3 interceptions. With 242 rushing yards, Garbers certainly has his share of mobility as well. His ability to read the field is on full display in the highlights of Cal’s game against UCLA last month.
Cal’s primary receiving threat is Nikko Remigio, who leads the team in receiving yards with 477 and has two receiving touchdowns. The Golden Bears have considerable depth behind him, as eight other receivers have at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards on the season.
However, Cal’s second leading receiver, Jordan Duncan, was recently suspended for the Redbox Bowl and will not be playing, along with several defensive players. Duncan is a considerable loss, as he finished the season with 364 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. The Illini should watch for receivers Kekoa Crawford and Trevon Clark in Duncan’s absence.
On the ground, the Bears usually turn to Christopher Brown Jr., who is an all-around athlete with 8 rushing touchdowns, 3 receiving touchdowns, and 943 total yards (794 rushing + 149 receiving) on the season.
Cal brings a pass-first offense to which the Illini defense has historically been susceptible. Linebackers Dele Harding and Milo Eifler will need to be strong in coverage, while Jamal Milan, Jamal Woods, and Oluwole Betiku Jr. will need to bring consistent pressure on Chase Garbers. If the Illinois defense can play their best and get stops on third down, then the Illini should be able to come home with a victory.