(Craig Has The) Bowl Takeaway
Scott Frost made reference to it early in the year. Beau Baldwin brought it up as well. Illinois is not very schematically complex on defense. And when they are unable to generate turnovers, they get picked apart. Said more simply, welcome to the Redbox Bowl.
In order to win with these schemes, Illinois has to force turnovers. The Illini defense as constituted gives up too many yards, and without turnovers, they will give up points. Cal had their high in points today. And the points per drive was their highest on the season. Illinois had a worse points per drive performance than Washington State, a known defensive powerhouse. Rod Smith actually outgained Cal today, but Cal took away the edge run game and the run game ground to a halt.
I'll make a few excuses for Rod Smith. The Illini lacked a legitimate receiving threat to take the top off of a defense. Rod did some cool things moving the OL around and giving some looks to the Cal defense. Eventually, Tim DeRuyter gave up on the fact that Illinois could go deep, and they just sat and smothered Illinois. All due credit to Brandon Peters, the offense click today. DeRuyter eventually moved out of their single-high safety look and moved to a Nickel look with Cover 4 schemes behind it. The change allowed the safeties to come downhill in a hurry and bottle up the Illini run game. Cal stopped blitzing and sat on the Illini run game. Peters was a highlight, but at some point, Illinois has to run to win. Mark Dantonio rides with the Cover 4 because eventually, the QB makes a bad throw and the secondary gets a great look. The Peters interception was exactly that.
Defensively, Beau Baldwin rides off to Cal Poly with a nice feather in his cap. He took Lovie to school today and went hard after a couple of players in the secondary in particular. Baldwin schemed to get the matchups he wanted and took advantage of the Illini defense. As Frost said, Illinois does what they do. Late in 2nd half, Lovie finally moved from the Cover 2 he ran most of the game and finally started running some single-high safety. Illinois forced Cal to punt a couple of times out of it, and Chase Garbers looked human again. At that point though, the Illini were down 3 scores and the game was out of reach.
Seeing Tim DeRuyter run the game makes me appreciate just how good he is as a defensive coordinator. He is running Justin Wilcox's defense, but it adjusting as the game moves along. Lovie Smith thrives on takeaways, I hope that is the one takeaway the Illini have from the Redbox Bowl.