Craig Has The Scout - California 2019 - RedBox Bowl
Who: California Golden Bears
*When: 3:00 pm - December 30th, 2019 *
Where: Levi Stadium
*Head Coach: Justin Wilcox. *Wilcox is a member of the Mike Belotti Oregon tree. He played under Belotti at Oregon, and moved with Chris Petersen to Boise State to coach under Dan Hawkins as a GA. He left Boise State for his first full time gig under another ex-Belotti guy, Jeff Tedford at Cal. From there, it was back to Boise State under Petersen when he took over full time. He took his sterling reputation to Tennessee with Derek Dooley, and actually did ok there, but bailed when Steve Sarkisian took over at Washington. He left with Sark to go to USC, where he was anything but a success. Paul Chryst gave him the chance to rehab his reputation at Wisconsin for a year, then he was named the head coach at Cal. Wilcox hired a staff that was heavy on Belotti influence, but has tripled down on the defensive concept at Cal. After taking over an Air Raid offense, that was quite a change. Wilcox has been successful enough, but may have found his ceiling at Cal.
*Offensive Style: Chris Petersen multiple. Beau Baldwin *played at Central Washington, where future NFL QB Jon Kitna was in the same QB room. Baldwin was the sponge guy, and knew the offense well. He moved into coaching at CWU upon graduation, then moved over to Eastern Washington. Baldwin played in and called a similar offense to that of his CWU days. Oddly enough, it was based on the Mike Belotti Oregon offense. Baldwin resigned as the HC of Eastern Washington to be the OC at Cal. He has resigned at the end of the bowl game to become the new head coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Baldwin inherited a great deal of skill talent, but never really translated it to a coherent offense. The Bears offense is maybe the least efficient in the country. He would make Garrick McGee proud.
*Defensive Style: A 3-4 Single High Safety. Tim DeRuyter *(former Fresno State HC) and Peter Sirmon split the DC duties. Sirmon played with Wilcox at Oregon and while at Mississippi State ran a similar 3-4 Cover 2 scheme Wilcox ran at Wisconsin. Wilcox was more aggressive with stunts and blitzes in his time at Wisconsin than Sirmon was. DeRuyter is also a 3-4 guy, but has typically ran a similar defense to Clancy Pendegrast from USC with the two OLBs standing up at the end of the line, giving a 5-2 look. DeRuyter is big on the single high safety look though, and it looks like that translated to Cal.
*Specialists: *Illinois was 29th nationally in net punting. Cal was 117th. Illinois has a decided advantage in special teams in this game. With both offenses being as poor as they are, a 6 yard per punt advantage here plays well for Illinois
Three Things to Watch
*The Illini Interior OL vs. the Cal Interior Defense. *Cal is essentially in the same category as Northwestern for stifling opponent big plays. The Illini OL is going to have to open up some holes early in order to score. Cal will walk up safeties and force the Illini to work sideline to sideline if the OL cannot open up quick holes. Cal ILB Evan Weaver is the best LB Illinois has seen this season, so Green and Petitbon are going to need to have the A game working.
*Illini Defense being assignment sound. *The last time the Illini D saw this much motion, Maryland ran for approximately 1,000 yards. Illinois has made progress since then, but injuries will put new bodies on the field. The Illini need to keep the plays in front of them and not get lost in the eye candy in the backfield. Illinois runs a different defense than the entire PAC-12, so I'm sure Cal will have some fun things dialed up for the Illini.
*Illini Pass Rush. *Cal will run a similar pacing scheme as Iowa, and will attack similar to the Hawkeyes. As a result, the Illini safeties will begin getting isolated deep in coverage. The Illini need the pass rush to get home to eliminate the 1 vs. 2 coverage conflicts for the Illini safeties.
Scouting Review - Offense
Beau Baldwin sat at the wheel of one of the least efficient offenses in the country. In SP+, the offense was 100th nationally (Illinois was 87th for reference). The middle portion of the season was pretty atrocious. Surprisingly, Chase Garbers was also injured during that exact timeframe. Garber is a legit passing threat downfield and opens up the Cal offense when he is on the field. Without him, Devon Modster was inconsistent and the offense ground to a halt. Baldwin though did little to adjust to his different talent setup, and exacerbated the problem. Cynically, the time the offense struggled also correlated to the time when Cal face the best part of their schedule.
Cal will try to establish the run game to get things moving.
The first thing to note is that the Bears have not seen a 4-man front pretty much all season. They also haven't seen a lot of 2 high safeties Illinois runs primarily. As a result, Baldwin will run a slightly adapted game plan. The one advantage this gives Cal is the ability to flip around the Illini front. The Illini rarely move when the TE or H-back flips the strength, moving the overhang players around to accommodate. This allows the Bears to pick on Illini defenders in the read option game, and to isolate Illini LBs in coverage to the sidelines.
The primary run of Cal is the base read option. Cal will run the play pure, and will mix in orbit motion as well. The primary run version is for the RB to run on a dive and attack the middle of the defense. Here is the base run
The Illini DEs have been hurt on this a bit over the course of the season. If the Illini begin cheating hard on the give, Garbers will keep.
Garbers is not a phenomenal runner, but he is good enough you need to account for him in the run game. If Modster is in the game, he is a much more dangerous run threat.
To keep the Illini honest, they will give the Illini a great deal of eye candy to keep the defense honest. The easiest movement is the formation flip.
The Ole Miss end man here got too deep, giving up a big cutback lane. I would flip the formation to get reads on Betiku if possible if I were calling plays for Cal. The other way to do it is motion across the formation. It gives the LBs something to view, and freezes the Illini corners.
If Garbers keeps this, the orbit motion guy is the RPO read on the CB for this play. The Bears would run this if the Illini safeties are crashing hard on the dive run.
Another run look the Bears like to use is pulling an interior lineman with a kickout on the EOL defender.
The Bears are pulling guards in these looks, and would do the same against Illinois after a motion to get the strong side of the formation with the nose defender on play side.
The kickout block allows the back to either get hard in the hole, or to bounce it if the end crashes. The Bears will run it out of multiple formations, and it is almost always a give. Once again, Garbers will keep on this if the Illini crash hard.
The backside end crashed on this play hard and Garbers took the easy yards on the read.
The other major run scheme used by Cal is the outside zone. The outside zone run look is 100% used with an RPO look and keeps Garber in the pocket. Here is the give.
This play has the backside flair look on the play. They will run a few different backside play patterns.
Here they sneak the TE up the seam. Illinois was burned on this exact same play by Iowa.
The pass playbook is more extensive than most Illinois has seen this year. The main look comes on flaring the RB out of the backfield. This will pin the Illini corners to the flat and open up other routes. Here is the pure flare route.
This is a pure pass from the onset. There is no other action on this play.
This is the same RB route, but with backside routes being run as well. I would expect more of this to move the Illini splitting to the sidelines. Here is the backside action going to work.
As the Illini begin cheating on this, the downfield options begin to emerge.
This is a play that scares me, especially with the run support Illinois is bringing with the safeties.
The side to side action will also be used to create zone levels in the Illini pass coverage.
The motion will declare the Illini defense, and the Bears will attack the sideline with levels of options. It's not fancy, but very effective.
Another concept to attack the levels is a series of outs without the motion. Here is a route concept with two quick out, pinning the Illini corners.
The Bears run a deep out behind it for a completion against the safety. The Illini corners tend to play softer on this, and will probably give up the 5 yard out more often. This is the same concept that Adams picked off against Wisconsin.
The Illini tend to run zone in pass defense, and Baldwin is known for attacking this with dig routes in the seams of the defense.
This is a set of dig routes to open up the defense. Illini LBs playing the run tight would open up big seams here and give up chunk plays.
Another similar concept is the for two receivers to sit on the dig routes and to run verts with the other receivers.
If given time, this is a homerun for the offense. The 3 verts are attacking the two deep safeties for Illinois.
The final play to attack LBs playing downhill is the tunnel screen.
Illinois sees this about every game in some fashion. I expect to see it at least once this game.
Baldwin is a solid play caller, but any time Cal gets behind the chains they become very predictable. If they are successful on first down though, they move the ball nicely. The Illini can sit and play bend but don't break against this offense. The key for Illinois is making havoc plays to get Cal off schedule and break down the gameplan.
Scouting Review - Defense
DeRuyter is an interesting wrinkle on the Cal playcalling. Wilcox was always a good playcaller, but relied on talent to win on D. His defenses were known for generating interceptions with the solid back end and good pressure up front. The Cal secondary right now is the weakest part of the team. What DeRuyter has done though is funnel everything to the middle and let the middle safety play centerfield almost exclusively. Weaver cleans up almost everything in the middle, and the secondary is allowed to play softer.
Cal has the advantage of having the tape of the RichRod offense from his days at Arizona, and from having played Ole Miss earlier this season. DeRuyter had a nice gameplan and took Ole Miss out of the game early. Here is the base defense on the give.
The DL does a nice job of occupying blockers and letting the 2nd level flow. Cal is blitzing on this play, and the DE makes the tackle. The backside LB is completely unblocked on this play.
Here is the same look with the keep.
The LBs flew to the give look, and the edge was wide open. DeRuyter does blitz often with his interior LBs, so this should be open.
Here is the first look again, but Weaver is asleep at his LB position.
Weaver is unblocked, but makes no move to attack the run. This happens at times, and the Illini moving OL would help in this.
Here is a similar look, but with a slant look from the receiver.
Illinois runs a similar look to this, but with the QB in the pocket.
Depending on who is under center for Illinois will depend on how they run this. Honestly, the outside receiver matters too, Illinois needs physical bodies on the outside to make this go.
Illinois has receivers to exploit the middle, so look for some looks similar to this against Cal.
Barker and Navarro on the seams is the big play opportunity for Illinois in this game.
Two final looks Illinois loves to use, and the Cal defensive look against it.
This is a pure outside zone run. Cal likes to blitz the interior LBs, and this will allow the Illini RBs to get to the edge. The Illini OT will need to get to the stand-up LBs to make this work and create seams.
The other look Illinois loves is the counter. The aggressive blocking of Kendrick Green makes this a go-to play early for Illinois
The soft safety Cal likes to use allows the Illini backs to get to the 3rd level with a head of steam on these plays.
DeRuyter likes to stunt his DL and blitz LBs. Against Illinois, they will blitz early in downs to get Illinois behind the chains and allow the defense to simplify. Illinois needs a legit passing threat to open up the run game though.
What does it mean?
Baldwin had a bad year on offense. The Illini defense is something they have not seen though. The Illini flow on the backside of the defense will shut down some run concepts that Cal likes. The trick for Illinois is to be assignment sound, Cal will show them a bevy of looks to create confusion and get players out of position. The Cal offense is solid, and finally healthy. The downside for Cal is that they lack big play threats.
Defensively, Cal will attack Illinois early to get them behind the chains. Once Illinois is forced to pass, they will tighten up the pressure and force Illinois to work the sidelines. Illinois has struggled doing just that this season.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois has to protect the football, and win in the interior of the OL. If the Illini can run between the tackles, the seams begin to open up in the pass game. This is a strength of Peters. Defensively, Illinois has to avoid giving up big plays. The game will be low scoring, so getting into a punting contest is an advantage to Illinois. In low scoring contests, the turnover battle is key.
For California to Win:
The Golden Bears have to establish the offense early. I believe that Cal will look a little like Minnesota in the early parts of the game. If Cal can get Illinois moving sideline to sideline with flares and screens, they can tire out the Illini LBs. Once that happens, Cal will try to punch the Illini up the middle.
It's a bowl game. Who wants to be there is a big portion of the final results. Baldwin has been splitting time between his new gig and this, so I'm interested in how many wrinkles they have for Illinois. If this game stays close, I favor Illinois. I'm not sure Illinois can score early enough to keep in this though. I'll take Cal to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: