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Cal vs. Washington Roundtable: Isi Sofele Or C.J. Anderson At The Goal-Line?

It's becoming clear Cal fans don't trust Isi Sofele the way they've trusted almost every Ron Gould running back. It's understandable. Isi is smaller. He's physical but not elusive. He can break tackles, but he needs his offensive line to make his blocks. However, he does something that no one else really pays attention to, which is pass protects the hell out of blitzers. That's why you see him lined up behind the line of scrimmage on the majority of snaps in lieu of any other running back, regardless of talent or abilities.

And despite having a career game, there's a lot of fury about Sofele handling those last couple of snaps rather than the bulkier power back C.J. Anderson. Even Jeff Tedford admitted Anderson might have been a solid option at the goal-line, although he reiterated his confidence in Sofele.

On the play selection down near the end zone at the end, Tedford said he felt like Isi Sofele could punch it in. When asked if C.J. Anderson could have been taking those snaps, he allowed that is a reasonable question to raise.

Did Jeff Tedford snatch victory away from Cal with his playcalling and personnel decisions in the final four players on Saturday? We revisit this in a special roundtable discussion, and trust me, there were a lot of different opinions here.

Avinash: So why would you trust Sofele in that situation? Experience. When in doubt, trust the guy who knows how to follow his blockers, who knows when to cutback, who can give your quarterback more of a run-pass option and more places to put the ball.

If you put Anderson in the game (who would only be in there to run), Washington shifts immediately to defend the run, or puts the extra man that would have respected Sofele's ability to catch out of the backfield into the box. That decreases the flexibility for this Cal offense, which we can all guess by now isn't much of a power running team.

Does that make the decision right or wrong to put Isi in those goal-line situations? I don't know. We lost, so clearly we didn't achieve the ideal result. But if Isi had punched it in, would we be angry about this? We'd probably be praising Isi for his greatest game in a Cal uniform. Sometimes the defense makes a better play than the offense.

TwistNHook: There appears to be a lot of criticism regarding Isi Sofele v. CJ Anderson here. I really like CJ Anderson. But I don't necessarily think that having Sofele here was all that bad. Let's first look at the numbers on the day:

Rushing         No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
Sofele, Isi     17  100    2   98  0 22  5.8
Allen, Keenan    2   20    0   20  0 19 10.0
Anderson, C.J.   7   11    2    9  1  4  1.3

Let's ignore Keenan Allen in there, because that was just some end-arounds. Sofele had the far superior day. 5.8 yards per rush versus 1.3 yards per rush. Anderson did have a TD earlier in the game in a similar goal line situation. However, Sofele was a reasonable option here.

I honestly do not remember the 2nd run all that well. Perhaps somebody else can elucidate us on that. Perhaps it was a bad play call, but I do not remember off the top of my head.

The 3rd run was unfortunately doomed from the start. The OLine got beat pretty bad and Sofele didn't have much of a chance. I don't even think Marshawn would have had much of a shot there. Thus, in my view, the difference between Sofele and Anderson seems minimal.

HydroTech: In regards to the whole Sofele/Anderson debate, here's some food for thought. Sofele averaged 5.8 yards per carry. CJ averaged 1.3 yards per carry. Cal fans tend to be statistically driven, and based on these statistics it would seem like Sofele is the better back to have in for run plays.

Of course, one will probably argue that CJ is better at powering through contact than Sofele. This is probably true. Nevertheless, if that were the case, then it would seem a little puzzling why a RB who is so good at powering through contact would only have 1.3 yards per carry in a game. This is probably even more puzzling considering that Sofele was averaging 5.8 yards per run against the very same defense. So what is the most likely explanation for these two very different statistics for two RBs? Run blocking and execution. Sofele got better run blocking and execution on average than CJ. So then clearly, it's quite obvious then that a RB's success on any given rush play is based more on the execution and run blocking by his OL rather than the RB's abilities.

As for putting in Sofele instead of Anderson for that goal-line situation in the final minute of the fourth quarter, all I have to add there is that I think the fact that Cal couldn't even gain one yard is really more on the OL than the RB.

Kodiak: The two stuffs at the goalline were on our O-line and TEs.(esp Miller) It wouldn't have mattered if it were Sofele, CJ, Best, or Marshawn back there.

With regards to CJ vs. Isi, before everyone burns Tedford in effigy, keep in mind that he allows Coach Gould to decide who gets the reps at RB. Gould has openly stated that he goes with his gut and the "flow of the game." So, everyone who praises Gould to the heavens for Igber, Forsett, Lynch, Best, Vereen has to also accept that the man is human and put his faith in a young man who was in the process of playing his best game as a Bear. Don't forget that Sofele was lighting it up. It's easy to remember his last two carries, but he had been gashing the Husky defense all day. Would I have given the rock to CJ? Yes. But, I can see why Coach Gould felt comfortable sticking with Sofele.

Berkelium97: I generally agree with what has been stated so far.

This game should be all the evidence we need to silence the Anderson vs Sofele debate. When the O-line creates holes and seals edges, it doesn't matter who is running back there. We're going to get yards. Sure CJ is a little better at powering through contact and Sofele is much better in open space, but there is no obvious reason that Anderson should supplant Sofele as the starter.

Thanks to some solid blocking, Sofele had been averaging nearly 6 yards per carry up to that point. He nearly got the TD on 2nd down, but that 3rd down play was poorly executed and not even Tiny could muscle his way through all those purple jerseys. It's tough to envision CJ as an obviously better option in that situation.

Yellow fever: I think having Isi in there is the right call. Thinking that CJA is a guaranteed touchdown because he's a bigger guy is the same kind of reasoning that led to LenWhale White vulturing touchdowns from Chris Johnson in Tennessee because he's a bigger guy. It's also the same kind of reasoning that led to T.J. Duckett vulturing touchdowns from Warrick Dunn in Atlanta because he's a bigger guy. It doesn't necessarily follow that CJA would be more effective on the goal line - I mean, his stat line for the day should be all the evidence you need of that.

LeonPowe: It's easy to say from looking at the results but even while the play was lineing up I was hoping for CJ instead of Sofele. Not because I think CJA should get all the carries, but I like him more as our short yardage back. An interesting wrinkle might have been one of Tedfords favorite plays where it's the fullback on the quick run to the tackle.
I think though the criticism needs to go against the line though. At the end of the game they needed to go helmet to helmet and push into the endzone to where it shouldn't matter who the back was, so that anyone could have scored.

While I don't know if I agree with all the play calls, if we execute we'd be throwing or running for 2 points and possible overtime.

CBKWit: I think this was Isi's best game, by far, as a Cal player. He hit the hole so much harder than I've seen in any previous game, and I don't think it was just the level of competition - he looked so much better this week than he did against Presbyterian last week. He was seeing the field much more effectively and making decisive cuts.

That said, I was wondering what the hell he was doing in there on 1st and goal from the 2. I haven't looked at the play by play, but I recall Isi gaining most, if not all of his yardage outside the red zone. Inside the red zone, UW was able to compress their defense (as all teams can) because they only have to defend 10-30 yards behind them. Cal's passing game certainly left UW vulnerable to the run, especially when the Cal was outside of the red zone.

CJ Anderson had two carries from the two yard line and converted it into a touchdown, Cal's only touchdown within the redzone. Anderson had to go through contact to get into the end zone.

Isi also had two carriers from the two yard line and failed to score. You can entertain hypotheticals all night, but Anderson converted and Isi didn't.

Aside from having Anderson in there, I would have liked to see something utilizing Maynard's mobility. He missed Allen in the end zone twice earlier in the game, so I would have rather seen a bootleg or something with a run option than trying another touch pass to Keenan. I would guess that faking to Anderson, who had scored earlier, would have drawn plenty of defensive attention.