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Points at a premium between Cal and TCU at Cheez-It Bowl

December 25, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2018, file photo, California head coach Justin Wilcox walks on the sideline during the first half of his team's NCAA college football game against Colorado in Berkeley, Calif. California, TCU looking to close out 2018 season on a high note at Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 26, after struggling to gain bowl eligibility. Cal is looking for its first bowl win in its second season under coach Wilcox after becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The newly named Cheez-It Bowl has a history of points coming in bunches, with six of the past seven games producing at least one team scoring 30 points or more.

This year’s Cheez-It Bowl might be lucky to have 30 combined points.

California and TCU have two of the nation’s best defenses and are among the worst offenses, so points will likely be at a premium Wednesday night at Chase Field, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Both play good defense, both offenses are trying to prove at the end of the season that they can do the things we need to do to win ball games,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I think that’s what makes football a lot of fun. I’ll be honest with you, it is a great matchup. Both teams kind of come at you.”

Both teams also had to scramble just to get to the desert.

Patterson’s Horned Frogs (6-6) had a stretch of five losses in six games, watched one quarterback after another go down with injury and lost by 37 to No. 9 West Virginia.

TCU closed the season with a tight win at Baylor and beat Oklahoma State 31-24 in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible for the 16th time in 18 seasons under Patterson.

The Horned Frogs are 27th nationally on defense, allowing 344.4 yards per game, but are 91st on offense with 374.6 yards per game.

The Bears (7-5) opened the season with three straight wins to move into the AP rankings at No. 24 but lost three straight games to open Pac-12 play. Cal became bowl eligible in coach Justin Wilcox’s second season with consecutive wins over Southern California and Colorado but lost to rival Stanford 23-13 to close the regular season in a game rescheduled because of wildfires in Northern California.

The Bears are 16th in the FBS on defense, allowing 319.4 yards per game and 110th on offense, averaging 350.2 yards.

“I really want them to appreciate the experience, but also realize one of our goals as a program that we talk about the first day of fall camp is to win a bowl game,” Wilcox said. “We need to continue to build off what we’ve done and go into this game and do whatever we can do to win it.”

A few more things to watch in the Cheez-It Bowl:

QB CAROUSEL

TCU started the season with sophomore Shawn Robinson at quarterback and he played seven games before season-ending shoulder surgery. Robinson later transferred to Missouri. Mike Collins took over, but he was injured in the first quarter against Baylor, leaving the Horned Frogs’ offense in the hands of fifth-year senior Grayson Muehlstein.

Muehlstein, who appeared in seven previous games, was solid in the win over the Bears, throwing for 137 yards and a TD on 11-of-15 passing. He was 16 for 25 for 180 yards in the bowl-clinching win against Oklahoma State.

Keeping Muehlstein healthy against a physical Cal defense will be paramount.

ANCHORING THE D

Cal’s defensive dominance is anchored by linebackers Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk. They combined for 276 tackles in 2018, setting a school record for most by a duo.

Weaver, a junior, had 143 tackles, fourth most in school history, and returned an interception for TD against Washington. He has 9.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks.

Kunaszyk, a senior, had 133 tackles, including 11 for loss and four sacks. He also forced five fumbles.

FINDING REAGOR

A top priority for Cal’s defense will be stopping Jalen Reagor.

TCU’s sophomore receiver had 72 catches for 1,061 yards — second on the school’s career list — and nine touchdowns, including at least one in a program-record seven straight games. Reagor also is a threat to run, with 161 yards and two TDs on 10 carries.

NUMBERS

Cal is in its first bowl since 2015. The Bears are making their third appearance in the now-named Cheez-It Bowl after playing in the 1990 Copper Bowl and 2003 Insight Bowl. ... TCU played in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl against Boise State and the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan State in its two previous bowl games in Arizona. ... Cal’s Patrick Laird needs 68 yards rushing to join Marshawn Lynch and Russell White as the only players in school history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons. Laird ran for 1,127 yards in 2017. ... TCU has allowed 14 sacks this season, tied for 14th nationally.

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