Stanford Football: Isi Sofele

Instant analysis: Stanford 21, California 3

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
3:46
PM ET

BERKELEY, Calif. -- If the Stanford defense always played the way it did Saturday against Cal, Cardinal fans could get used to the Big Game being played in October.

The 115th meeting between the two Bay Area schools epitomized the type of game coach David Shaw would like to see each week as the Cardinal rode a physical running attack and a stout defense to a 21-3 win.

Here are a few highlights from the Cardinal's third straight win against Cal:

It was over when: Cal running back Isi Sofele was dropped for a loss of two yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Cal 42-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Stanford QB Josh Nunes ended up throwing an interception a few plays later, but it was clear Cal wasn’t going to come back trailing 21-3.

Game ball goes to: Stanford defense. Ben Gardner, Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and just about everyone on the unit contributed positively as the Cardinal kept Cal out of the end zone.

Stat of the game: Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor passed Toby Gerhart for No. 2 on the school’s all-time rushing list. He finished the game with 28 carries for 189 yards and has run for 3,616 yards in his four-year career. With five regular-season games left, Taylor needs to average 84 yards a game to pass all-time leader Darrin Nelson (4,033).

Unsung hero: Gardner. Gardner has quietly become one of the steadiest forces in the Pac-12. His physical play up front sets the tone, which the rest of the defense feeds off of.

What it means: First, it means the Cardinal are not immune to offensive touchdowns on the road. Before a 7-yard touchdown run by Taylor in the first quarter, Stanford had not scored a road offensive touchdown this year. Its previous offensive touchdown during a road game came at Oregon State on Nov. 5, 2011. With games against Washington State and Colorado coming the next two weeks, Stanford will expect to be 7-2 (4-1 Pac-12) when it hosts No. 8 Oregon State on Nov. 10.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 6

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
11:00
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

6. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford

2011 numbers: Posted 52 tackles (33 solo) including a conference best 17.5 tackles for a loss. He also had 8.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and was second in the conference in forced fumbles.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 5

Making the case for Thomas: It's time to break the stranglehold wide receivers have had on this list for the past three days and look to defense. Thomas is the best outside linebacker in the conference and many would argue in the country. He opted to return for another season to improve his consistency and up his draft status. And both should see significant improvement. Last year Stanford's run defense was tops in the conference, allowing less than 85 yards per game and it was the only team to hold opponents to an average of less than 100 yards per contest. Thomas was a big reason for that number. Expect him to be even better this year with the return of Shayne Skov at inside linebacker. When Skov went down, defenses were keying in on Thomas, which makes his production last year that much more impressive. With six of last year's front seven returning -- plus the return of Skov and young playmakers like James Vaughters and Noor Davis -- Thomas headlines a run-stopping unit that should once again challenge for best in the conference.

No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 12

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
11:00
AM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

12. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

2011 numbers: Rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns on 242 carries. Had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry while also catching 27 balls and a pair of touchdowns.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 24.

Making the case for Taylor: It's time to stop calling Taylor one of the most underrated backs in the college football and start calling him one of the top, most complete running backs in the Pac-12. A back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher who was often overlooked because of the guy handing him the ball (that would be Andrew Luck for those with a short memory), Taylor will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense. That should come as no surprise to those who follow the team closely, because he was actually the focal point last year and the year before despite the presence of Luck. He's durable enough to carry the ball 25 to 30 times per game, but that's not how David Shaw uses him. With a rotation of four other backs last year -- and the expectation of a similar approach this year -- Taylor will continue to make the most of his opportunities. Expect, however, a slight increase in his carries in 2012 as the Cardinal break in a new quarterback. The departure of Tyler Gaffney and the graduation of Jeremy Stewart opens up some niche roles for younger backs -- but we'll likely see Taylor carry more of the load, especially early as the new quarterback continues to grow and the pecking order behind Taylor takes shape. A second-team all-conference pick last year, Taylor's receiving skills make him extremely versatile, and he's also Stanford's best blocking back.

No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 21

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
6:00
AM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason Top 25 here.

No. 21 Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford

2011 numbers: In three games Skov posted 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss.

2011 postseason ranking: Unranked

Making the case for Skov: Had we seen a healthy Shayne Skov last year, we would have seen a guy with 100-plus tackles, 15-plus tackles for a loss, probably eight or nine sacks and a top-10 finish in the 2011 postseason Top 25. Then again, we wouldn't be seeing Skov this year because he'd be in an NFL camp right now. But that wasn't the case. A knee injury against Arizona in Week 3 kept him sidelined the rest of the year and now he's back to join a Stanford front seven that's among the best in the conference -- maybe the country. At question is if Skov is the same player. Head coach David Shaw said the rehab has gone well and Skov will be ready for action in fall camp -- though he's been suspended for the season opener against San Jose State for a DUI arrest back in February. Shaw noted that Skov doesn't have to prove that he can play the game of football. He needs to prove, through fall camp and beyond, that his surgically-repaired knee can handle the wear and tear it's going to take being a middle linebacker. If it does, expect Skov to be much higher on the postseason rankings because he's one of the top middle linebackers in the country.

No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
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Last week we brought you our predictions for the Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers in 2012. And judging from the comments, it seems like at least 10 quarterbacks are going to hit the 3K mark.

Are folks just as optimistic about the running backs reaching 1,000 yards?

First, let's take a look at last year's 1K rushers:
So that's five of the seven coming back. Let's break it down by team.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREStanford RB Stepfan Taylor is seeking his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal have a committee approach, but even so, Taylor has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. The loss of guard David DeCastro hurts a bit, but the Cardinal are dedicated to the run and Taylor is a fantastic back. Shouldn't have any trouble three-peating.

Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: The Wildcats ran the ball the second fewest of any Pac-12 team last season (331 attempts), but Carey still managed 425 yards on 91 carries. Arizona will run the ball significantly more under Rich Rodriguez -- who usually has one of the top rushing offenses in the nation. His running backs had more success at West Virginia than at Michigan, where QB Denard Robinson sucked up most of the yards. Carey will be close and it might come down to whether Arizona plays a 13th game.

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: He did it in a pass-first system on an injured ankle. Now he's in a run-first system and healthy. Do the math. Marshall should flourish in a downhill system. The Sun Devils have deep group behind him -- maybe the deepest in the conference -- but I can't imagine anyone cutting into his carries too deeply that it hinders his ability to get back to 1K.

Isi Sofele, Cal: There are mumblings that Cal might move to more of a committee approach and Sofele might not get the same number of carries as last year (252). Even so, he'll still probably be chairman of that committee and will have ample opportunity to reach 1,000 yards again. He'll get there.

Tony Jones, Colorado: The Buffs' offensive line might be their strongest offensive asset with standouts like tackle David Bakhtiari and center Gus Handler. That bodes well for Jones, who showed he can be very explosive backing up Rodney Stewart last year. But the Buffs spent a lot of time playing catch-up last season and couldn't commit to the run as much as Jon Embree probably would have liked (401 attempts). If they can't develop a downfield threat, Jones is going to see a lot of eight-in-the-box.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: He was knocking on the door last year with 939 -- and that was behind LaMichael James and his 1,805 yards. Barner will see more carries than his 152 last season, though he'll still have to split carries with De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks' new quarterback. Still, no one in the conference runs the ball more than Oregon so Barner shouldn't have any trouble getting there.

Committee, Oregon State: We know Oregon State wants to run the ball more. The Beavers were dead last in the conference last season in attempts (318) and rushing yards (1,043) and there are still issues on the offensive line that need to be sorted out. Several players are expected to contribute -- but chances are one individual won't get over 1,000 yards.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The new system at UCLA will be pass-oriented. But Franklin (976 yards last year) won't be completely ignored. Just look at Marshall's numbers from ASU when Noel Mazzone was running the show and you can see that running backs are still a big part of the attack. And the Bruins might run a little more until the new quarterback finds his way in the system. He'll be close.

Curtis McNeal, USC: He just cracked the club by five yards last season. This year he'll have the benefit of a 13th -- maybe even a 14th -- game to get there. Can't imagine many teams will stack the box and dare Matt Barkley to beat them with his arm. McNeal should clear 1K easily.

John White, Utah: No back carried the ball more in the conference and only three players in FBS football had more rushing attempts. There's no reason to think the Utes won't take that same approach. White is an explosive back who is a proven workhorse. If Utah can get the passing game going, it will open up more for White who could probably match his yards total with fewer carries.

Committee, Washington: Chris Polk was a special running back -- the kind of guy who could run for speed and run for power. He's gone and there are questions on the offensive line where there weren't last year. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will probably headline the committee and Washington's balanced approach (52-48 run-pass ratio last year) will allow for plenty of opportunities for both. They should easily combine, but unless one steps up as an 18-20 carry-per-game back, it's unlikely an individual will reach 1K.

Committee, Washington State: The pie for carries is already small considering the offense. Then you have Rickey Galvin (1A), Carl Winston (1B) and Marcus Mason (1C) cutting into the pie even more to nibble on whatever slices are left. Running backs in Mike Leach's world are better used in the passing game on swings and screens in this offense. So don't expect a 1K rusher.

Final: Stanford 31, Cal 28

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
10:47
PM ET
STANFORD, Calif. – The Cardinal overcame a sluggish first half to top Cal 31-28 in the 114th Big Game. And, per usual for this gathering, it came down to the final minute.

Cal made a game of it in the fourth quarter, cutting a 28-13 deficit to 28-21 with 10:53 remaining. Zach Maynard connected with Spencer Hagan for a 3-yard touchdown pass, then converted the 2-point conversion to Marvin Jones.

But the Cardinal went on a 14-play drive, eating up 57 yards and 7 minutes, 40 seconds that ended in a 35-yard Jordan Williamson field goal – making it a two-possession game with three minutes remaining.

The Bears drove to the Stanford 1-yard line with 18 seconds left and C.J. Anderson scored to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28. But the Bears were unable to recover the onside kick. It went right to Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener, who made the catch in the air and then fell to the ground to secure the win.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shook off a bumpy first half to finish 20-of-30 for 257 yards and two second-half touchdowns. He also threw an interception for the fourth consecutive game – though it came when his receiver slipped on the wet grass.

Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery each had rushing touchdowns and fullback Ryan Hewitt and tight end Levine Toilolo had touchdown receptions.

Maynard finished 20-of-29 with 279 yards and two touchdowns.

Cal running back Isi Sofele rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries.

Stanford-Cal kickoff

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
7:15
PM ET
We’re about to kickoff at Stanford Stadium in the 114th Big Game. A few things to keep an eye on.
  1. While Cal gets a lot of publicity for its talented wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, running back Isi Sofele's production has been a significant determining factor in the outcome of games. When he rushes at least 18 times, Cal is 6-0. When he doesn’t hit that number, the Bears are 0-4. Coincidence?
  2. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown an interception in three straight games -- the longest streak of his career. However, it’s not his worst “block” of interceptions. That came last season when he had back-to-back games with two interceptions against Notre Dame and Oregon.
  3. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is 10 yards away from his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. Taylor only has four 100-yard rushing games this season. But the past three games Taylor has rushed for 99, 95 and 99 yards.

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