Cal’s Defense Will Outshine TCU’s In Cheez-It Bowl

Friday, December 14, 2018 12:06 PM UTC

Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 12:06 PM UTC

Get the latest college football picks on the Cheez-It Bowl between Cal and TCU. The game from Phoenix is on Wednesday, December 26 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Bet confidently with tips from SBRpicks.com.  

Cheez-It Bowl: TCU (6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS) vs California (7-5 SU, 6-5-1 ATS)Wednesday, Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)Chase Field, PhoenixFree NCAAF Pick: Golden Bears PKBest Line Offered: Heritage

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Cal is in a bowl game for the first time since 2015 and for the first time under coach Justin Wilcox. Conversely, TCU is in a bowl for the fourth straight year. Coach Gary Patterson is 10-6 all-time in bowls, all with TCU.

How They Got Here

TCU beat an FCS school, a Group of Five school, scraped by some of its worst conference opponents, winning its final two games, to reach six victories and clinch bowl eligibility. Cal started off 3-3 before winning four of its next six. Its best win came against eventual conference champ Washington, 12-10. Cal never allowed quarterback Jake Browning to get comfortable and he produced a season-low in yardage.

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Why TCU Can Win/Cover

The Frogs have some playmakers who can score in a hurry. The top one is speedster Jalen Reagor, who has accrued over 1,000 receiving yards. He’s also a threat in the running game, such as in jet sweeps and in other plays where he has room to operate. In the regular season finale, he achieved an 83-yard rushing touchdown. Running back Darius Anderson is another important piece. He averages 4.8 YPC, which is down 1.2 from last year simply because defenses focus on him more heavily. He’s capable of breaking a big play every time he touches the ball, but he’s listed as ‚questionable.‘ Cal is 0-5 ATS when allowing at least 23 points.

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Why Cal Can Win/Cover

The Golden Bears' defense has turned around, helping Cal to cover five of its last six games. It became more aggressive and more creative in the different ways it applies pressure. Cal can afford to take such risks with a lockdown corner in Camryn Bynum—he leads Cal with nine passes defensed—and reliable tackling. For example, in its last three games Cal’s sack percentage averaged 9.43%, which would place it level with Alabama. After their third consecutive loss, the Golden Bears held four straight opponents to fewer than 20 points, including Washington, Wazzou, and USC. The latter two efforts were most impressive because Wash State averages 36 points per game, USC 26. Although TCU’s offense will bring speed, Cal is used to containing it.

Common Opponents/Series History

Both faced top-10 teams. Ohio State proved a tough match-up for TCU and it beat the Frogs 40-28. With the help of its power running, OSU ran for 182 yards, which is the second-most that TCU has allowed in a game. The Golden Bears had an excellent defensive game plan for Wazzou, keeping the ball in front of them and never allowing big plays. They held the Cougars to 19 points to cover the spread, but couldn’t muster enough offense to win straight-up.

The Verdict

Offensively, Cal matches up well against TCU’s base scheme that features five defensive backs and is geared to stop the Big 12’s spread, pass-first offenses. Cal will pursue a run-first approach led by Patrick Laird, who is nearing 1,000 yards while averaging 4.3 YPC, in order to beat TCU’s speed with power. The vulnerability of TCU’s defense to offensive power is a major reason why it ranks 15 spots below Cal’s defense in limiting opposing time of possession. With Laird, Cal can wear TCU down.

Quarterback Chase Garbers has become serviceable. He avoids interceptions and will keep TCU’s defense honest. The Frogs’ secondary still misses safety Innis Gaines. Despite the success of its scoring defense in the regular season, TCU has allowed at least 30 points in three consecutive bowl games.

Defensively, Cal allows 3.6 YPC, which ranks 21st. For example, it limited Stanford star Bryce Love to 74 yards on 22 carries. Whether Darius Anderson plays or not, Cal will concentrate on stopping TCU’s rush attack because it already has the tools in the secondary to contain Reagor, more so with TCU playing its third-string quarterback. TCU has failed to cover seven in a row when rushing for fewer than 160 yards.

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