SANTA CLARA, Calif. (WAND) -- First bowl game: check.

That was the message Illinois head coach Lovie Smith had following his team's 35-20 loss to California in the Redbox Bowl on Monday afternoon at Levi's Stadium.

Not where the program's goal is, but making progress.

"(The) football team's come a long way," he said. "We're disappointed in the loss of course ... There's a lot to build on. It's a process. As we continue to take steps with our program the bar has been set. It was a lot of fun going to our first bowl game and we're looking forward to what the future could bring."

California hadn't scored 21 points in any single half of football this season but the Bears did just that as they went into the halftime tunnel up 21-13.

The Bears entered Monday's game ranked 87th in the nation in FEI, an efficiency-based metric.

Illinois was playing without a handful of regular players including DB Tony Adams, LB Dawson DeGroot and LB Jake Hansen on defense and WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, C Doug Kramer and WR Caleb Reams on offense.

The Illini (6-7) were led by QB Brandon Peters' 273 yards to go with a touchdown and an interception. TE Daniel Barker caught a first quarter touchdown pass and RB Reggie Corbin ran for a touchdown in the fourth. K James McCourt hit field goals in the first and second quarters.