The Curious Case of Ty Isaac

Submitted by ST3 on December 12th, 2016 at 4:31 PM

I've been fixated on our running game lately. While trying to find a website that lists the team's average yards per carry by season, I stumbled on this site:

It didn't have exactly what I was looking for, but a quick scan of the rushing leaders showed Ty Isaac at 5.9 ypc. He's somewhat down the list, but that's because it apparently includes everyone, including Joe O'Donnell who gained 50 yards on 1 carry in 1963. (I don't know, maybe after that stellar first carry, you give him the ball again?)

So I took the data and filtered it by number of carries. I chose 100 as a nice round number. That should limit the list to primary ball carriers or multi-year backups. If you argue that number is too low, there have only been 88 players to crack that. The top 10 running backs, since 1956, in terms of yards per carry (min 100 carries) are:

Player Career carries YPC
Jon Vaughn 226 6.3
Denard Robinson 723 6.2
Kerry Smith 154 6.2
Tyrone Wheatley 688 6.1
Tim Biakabutuka 448 6.1
Rob Lytle 554 6.0
Ty Isaac 104 5.9
Tony Boles 394 5.7
Allen Jefferson 175 5.7
Drake Johnson 116 5.7

Isaac's average is boosted a little by one long TD run he had in 2015, but he also averaged 5.9 YPC in his one season at USC. Here's hoping he figures out whatever it is that's holding him back (pass blocking, fumbles? other?) and he gets more productive playing time next season.



December 12th, 2016 at 4:35 PM ^

He goes down on first contact.

Like immediately.

It's not like he's awful, he just doesn't give you anything you can't get from Evans or Smith (or probably Higdon next year).

My guess would be the vast majority of his yards came against nobody or a team we were just killing.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:49 PM ^

Evans is at 7.1 ypc on 80 carries, so he didn't make my list. I expect him to get the majority of the carries next season.

I don't think Isaac can be so easily dismissed as saying his yards came against nobody. He's got 144 career carries.

He carried 8 times for 48 yards against Wisconsin. They're not nobody. Reviewing this season, he had 8 or more carries in 6 of the first 7 games, and then bupkis. 11 carries total in the last 5 games. Will he even come back next season?


December 12th, 2016 at 4:52 PM ^

Yeah, my issue sometimes has been that some guys have off days, but even though Smith wasn't The Guy like some other schools have, the coaches wouldn't go with the hot hand like Isaac or Evans. Smith did poorly against Iowa and Wisconsin, and Evans (Iowa) and Isaac (Wisconsin and on his 1 carry vs. Iowa) did better, but it didn't seem to matter to the coaches.

If you have a stud running back like Christian McCaffrey or Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley, you stick with him. If you have a mediocre RB like Smith, you can afford to switch it up.


December 12th, 2016 at 5:57 PM ^

his 1 carry in the Iowa game was for our only TD against Iowa.  And it was a strong run where he DID NOT go down on first contact (or second or third, for that matter).  It is always a mystery to me as to why he does not get more touches, because he always seemed to make the most of the few opportunities he got this season.


December 12th, 2016 at 10:09 PM ^

gonna teach you a little bit about football...Smith is a senior and has instilled that trust from the coach. So there is card #1. Card 2 is a ball security that in close games, come hell or high water, the last thing I want is the pill on the floor in a game that is for the learning experience...Smith was notably our best blocking back on passing situations, draws, etc. If you break down the trends in our season of offense, Harbaugh always has a tell, and it's what lost us or at least kept the big games close. His offense sets up the next play and the next game and each play feeds the defense some good information and some misleading information. Smith was crucial for both pass plays, and plays the defense needed to think were pass plays but ended up being run plays...and more importantly plays that were read option/pass option where we tried to catch personell changes and make d-coordinators batty...bottom line, Smith was serviceable on any run play, had enough good plays to keep him in it, but most importantly HAD to be on the field to make the next three plays work.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:40 PM ^

I disagree that he goes down on first contact, but the point is taken that he's not great at breaking tackles.

Still...5.9 yards/carry is 5.9 yards/carry. It doesn't really matter if he runs over people or around people or teleports, that's good production.


December 12th, 2016 at 5:01 PM ^

Well yes, but the only times I can remember Ty Isaac doing impactful things were UNLV last year and Rutgers this year. Is it good production if he gets his 5.9 ypc against nobody and then rides the bench when it's crunch time? I would say the ypc number is deceiving. We're not hiding Barry Sanders on the bench


December 12th, 2016 at 9:29 PM ^

That's partly my point. You can scheme around poor pass blockers in the backfield. Hill wasn't necessarily counted on to block much in the backfield - he was frequently run out into the flat to became a receiving option. Isaac could be used in the same way, even split out or motioned out of the backfield. You could spread out opposing teams and use Isaac in the slot as a pass receiver. If you take a defender out of the box and make him defend Isaac in space, you might have a more favorable matchup while removing a threat to the QB. That's just one example of a way to scheme around a mediocre pass blocker, which is why I've said multiple times in this thread that I think Isaac was underutilized and misused in some ways.


December 13th, 2016 at 7:43 AM ^

Yes. That's pretty clear. But when your guys "who can block" aren't getting the job done, then it's nice to have a counter punch with guys "who can spread the field." If you're running up inside against Iowa and Wisconsin with your tough guy who's gaining 2-3 yards/carry and not having much success, maybe it's time to spread the field with your pass receiving backs or outside runners.

Eat Your Wheatlies

December 12th, 2016 at 4:51 PM ^

This seems like a poor argument. Yards are yards. If anything it suggests he does a better job of avoiding initial contact/finding the hole. I think that if you look at his sample here and at USC that "poor competition" seems like a poor excuse. I'm actually wondering what the hesitation is as well, because he seems like he could be more useful than 2-3 carries per game...not necessarily a workhorse, but more useful.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:38 PM ^

Seeing him on screen plays - I think he can be very effective in that role. There are some backs (James White) who almost exclusively catch out of the backfield in the NFL and I think Isaac could be very good at that job.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:45 PM ^

Poor scheming, IMO. I like Harbaugh and Drevno, but I think they've underutilized him as a receiver. He has the best hands of all the running backs and many thought he would be a TE or even WR coming out of high school. He had 2 catches this year, and both went for 21 yards.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:43 PM ^

I'm convinced that the biggest reason he doesn't get more carries is his lack of pass blocking and "toughness," two things that Jim Harbaugh values greatly.

Personally, I disagree with his deployment and have long beaten the drum for him to get more looks. If you don't like his pass blocking, there are other ways to use him that don't totally expose that deficiency. He did improve in pass pro this season, but Smith was still the best.

Isaac also got in the doghouse last year for fumbling twice against Maryland, though he didn't fumble at all this year. (He did juggle the ball once and almost lost it but hung on.)


December 12th, 2016 at 5:08 PM ^

he came off the field on that play.. I completely agree, I was calling for him to get in there more especially against teams that Devean did not do well against which happen to be the games we lost and closest games. Maybe there is a trust factor there? They didn't think they could ltrust him with that ball in those tight games?

I definitely expect to see a lot more Isaac next year and if his blocking is the weak part, work on it all summer, whatever it takes.


December 12th, 2016 at 5:57 PM ^

...he's just not tough. Ball security seemed to get better but almost all of Isaac's production is outside the tackles. When he runs inside he neither makes quick cuts into the hole nor accelerates to the second level (ever?). Pass blocking is poor as measured by the following empirical method: Can you think of one occasion when he made a decisive blitz pick-up? Whether or not he could be deployed more effectively with regard to play calls or using him as a receiver, lack of toughness and blocking ability put a ceiling on the # of snaps he gets from this coaching staff.


December 12th, 2016 at 4:54 PM ^

He's been on my dynasty fantasy team his entire career, because I couldn't help myself. It seems every time he's at or near the top of the depth chart, he gets some sort of injury that causes him to miss time or be limited. Currently it's a high ankle sprain. He's a free agent this year -- maybe getting out of Jacksonville to a real organization will help him.