Last year I made a post about Shane Vereen's running against UC Davis. It was pretty illustrative and helped put to rest some fears that Vereen had regressed for his Junior year.
I thought I would do the same analysis for Isi Sofele's running game against Fresno State and hopefully it will help answer some concerns fans (such as myself) have had about him.
Please note that the "in the box" figures are a very rough guesstimate. It's definitely not accurate by any means. I don't go into much detail at all of the carries because I'm no expert nor do I want to analyze 23 different plays. Speaking of the number, I know the official stat sheet says that Isi has 24 carries but I could only count 23 of them while watching the game. It's possible I missed one, so sorry about that.
7yd gain on 1st and 10, 8/9 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
(Click on all images in this post to see a higher res version)
First run from scrimmage for Cal and it goes well. Great blocking by the line (except for #57 the LG – Schwenke? - who gets knocked on his ass). Will Kapp provides a good block to the LB on the edge and Sofele hits the hole quickly. He even has a nice move to break the half-assed tackle by the LB who tried to arm tackle him and then manages to fall forward for an extra yard or so. It’s a great run. What’s more impressive is that the box is stacked against the run. Clearly Fresno doesn’t respect the pass just yet.
No gain on 1st and 10, 5 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
The line doesn't get the push here and defenders start collapsing in. The LT misses the guy who goes around him and manages to wrap Isi’s legs. But unlike what I originally thought that doesn’t entirely stop him. No what stops him is that he runs right into a defender. I can’t really tell whose fault this is but from looking frame by frame it seems as if Kapp and Galas double team a defender while the to-be tackler (the MLB I think) sneaks in behind them. Not really sure what more Isi could’ve done here. He fell on his back as soon as he hit the guy.
14yd gain on 1st and 10, 5/6 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Toss to Sofele who takes it outside for a great gain. He has speed to run past the defenders and there are three good blocks that help: First is a great shoulder check by Allen (who is in motion) to the ROLB, second is a block by #75 past the line of scrimmage to give Sofele some breathing space and third is an excellent block by Kapp (the FB) on #4 the CB. He doesn’t level him but he engages him long enough to spring Isi free. Great blocks + speed = gain.
No gain on 3rd and 1, 9 in the box, 2TE, 1FB, 1WR
Third down near the goal line and the line just collapses. It’s like a jailbreak up front and Isi runs into a wall of about three defenders. He falls forward and thus manages to get back to the LOS but not much more. It’s hard to tell but it looks like Miller lost his block on the LB and the LG and LT both lost their men.
1yd gain for TD on 1st and Goal, 9 in the box, 2TE, 1FB, 1WR
Isi's fifth carry brings his first TD of the year. There's no doubt here what helped. His speed and Kapp's monster block helped spring him into the EZ.
5yd gain on 1st and 10, 5 in the box, 2TE, 0FB, 2WR
Pistol? Good blocking except for one defender who was left alone (was Maynard supposed to read him?). But that doesn’t faze Isi. Oh no. Instead the little guy hunches down and barrels forward past the pathetic arm tackle for five yards. Reminds me a bit of Vereen there.
39yd gain for TD on 2nd and 5, 6 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Great blocking by the OL, TE and FB (Tyndall this time) allows Sofele to get past the line and then Keenan Allen provides a block in the secondary to spring Isi to the end zone for another touchdown. And Isi slides past yet another arm tackle. You should read this post by the Colorado fans over at Ralphie Report for a more detailed look at this run.
No gain on 1st and 10, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Oh my. It's a jailbreak out there. Watching it frame by frame you can see the interior of the line just gets pushed back. It reminds me of the Battle of the Bulge map. I do wish Isi had cut to the outside (see the crappy line I drew) because there was no one there and Jones even had a nice block on the corner. But Isi decides to plough forward and down. I say seven in the box but it's clear that the defense was expecting the run. Look at the corner turned inward looking at the QB and RB.
2yd gain on 2nd and 12, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
While the line doesn't crumble like last time, it doesn't do much good either. And Isi is resigned to go forward for a 2yd gain (erasing the penalty from the last play). However take a look at the second picture and see the line I drew. There was space for Isi that would've resulted in something more but I'm not sure if that space is even noticeable on the field and if it is how easy it would be to change directions like that.
8yd gain on 1st and 10, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
More pistol and Maynard hands off to Isi. From the game camera angle it looks like he runs into a wall of defenders but he ends up on the other side and forward so I guess the blocking was good. But what I am impressed with is that he lets a defender ride him for an extra 3 or 4 yards before he is taken down by a second defender (who he also pushes for an extra couple of yards!). Excellent running by Isi and very impressive.
0yd gain and FUMBLE on 3rd and 2, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Uh oh. Fumble time. I’m not sure if he didn’t secure the ball or if it was a bad hand-off but the defender jarred it lose with his hand and it pops right out. Thankfully Maynard was paying attention and was able to recover. Actually on closer look it seems as if he didn’t have full control of the ball and was in the process of re-adjusting when the force of running into someone knocked it lose. So not entirely Isi's fault.
-1yd gain on 1st and 10, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
First loss of the day for Isi and it came when Fresno was anticipating the run all the way. The fake reverse to Allen fooled no one here. I don’t know who was supposed to be blocking the tackler but he slipped right behind the center (I think) and filled the gap and forced Isi down. And he manages to put the ball on the ground but he was ruled down before so he dodges a bullet there.
5yd gain on 1st and 10, 5 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
So Isi comes out after his fumble in the endzone and gets a nice little gain. This time he sees the defenders up ahead and decides to take it to the right sideline and away from the defenders and ends with a nice stiff arm.
No gain on 1st and 10, 6 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Ok this one is interesting. If you look at the second image it looks like he is going to follow the FB into the hole, but as you can see in the third image, he decides to cut right instead and run into two defenders who bring him down. Now I'm not sure he would've gotten anything had he followed Tyndall because he fails to make a block anyway. Whoops.
9yd gain on 2nd and 10, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
This time the line shoves all the defenders out of the way and the FB holds his block so Isi can run forward for a good gain. He even has a nice little juke to avoid the corner and falls forward at the end for an extra yard or so. Great run and great blocking here.
-2yd gain on 1st and 10, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
The defender was just waiting for him there. I think Maynard should've kept this one. According to Paws Maynard was reading the end and the tackler (Harrell) was DT.
3yd gain on 2nd and 12, 9 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Isi cuts outside and then cuts back inside only to get tackled. He should've just kept going instead of cutting back inside the second time around in my opinion.
-5yd gain on 1st and 10, 6 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Toss out to Isi. Look at the second picture. What in the hell is #72 and the FB (Nico Dumont) doing!? They ignore #4 the CB who stops Isi in the backfield for a big loss.
3yd gain on 2nd and 7, 7 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
OL gets a decent push out to the right and the FB blocks a defender to give Isi a nice hole to run through, but he runs into the pile of defenders to his right ending the play for a three yard gain. I guess he thought he couldn't avoid the defender to his left even though there was space there. I get the feeling Best or even Vereen would've challenged the defender here.
No gain on 1st and 10, 6 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
It looks like MSG loses his defender who latches onto Isi and holds him while his teammates bring him down. OL fail. If only he had held that block...
1yd gain on 1st and 10, 7 in the box, 2TE, 0FB, 2WR
This time around the blocking by the line is pretty good and the TE (Hagan) holds his block long enough for Isi to get some space. Unfortunately Keenan Allen misses the block on the defender (looks like Safety) who slams into Sofele and takes him down for only 1 yard. Had Keenan gotten that block, it would've been a pretty nice run.
1yd gain on 1st and 10, 8 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Not much to say here. Sofele takes the handoff and runs straight forward where there's not much room for him and thus he has to fall down to gain a yard (I think he was given forward progress because you see him falling forward but then a few frames later he gets dragged back by the defenders).
2yd gain on 2nd and 9, 5 in the box, 1TE, 1FB, 2WR
Isi's last carry of the day goes for a couple of yards only. It's a toss play with MSG and Tyndall (FB) pulling in front of him. Unfortunately for him the rest of the OL is unable to get up and block the LBs and DBs and they all swarm him to bring him down. Yet again he falls forward for a yard or so.
My view of how Isi Sofele performed in his first start as a Bear was completely wrong on first impression. As my post-game comments and my report card attests to, I was very negative about him. I especially was under the belief that Isi was easily taken down on first hit.
I couldn't have been more mistaken. Upon closer inspection it is clear that while Sofele is no Best, Vereen, Lynch or even Forsett, he is still a talented running back and most importantly under Coach Gould's tutelage. He is perhaps a little bit more dependent on the O-Line and good blocks than his predecessor was, but you can't expect everyone to be like them. Most of his short runs or losses were really a product of bad run blocking. And of his two fumbles the first one isn't entirely his fault (though he isn't faultless) and the second (in the endzone) is perhaps due to the craziness of the scenario. And unlike my first impression he doesn't get taken down easily. He is pretty hard to take down (sometimes even taking defenders along for a ride!). Fresno did a pretty good job at tackling him solidly. He will break away from arm tackles.
I am still concerned about the running game but this time not because of the running back, but because of the offensive line. They performed well at the beginning but they seemed to regress as the day wore on. And I have to call out Will Kapp's performance. He played a monster first quarter. (Thanks to Kodiak for pointing out that he went out with a concussion after his first quarter performance - hope he comes back soon). His blocks are the one that really sealed the deal. I hope he continues to improve and bring back a level of FB play that we haven't really had in a couple of years.