Bell at­tracts at­ten­tion as Terps of­fense hums

De­spite im­pres­sive stats, ‘we’ve got a long way to go,’ unit’s co­or­di­na­tor warns

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sport­sprof56

Grow­ing up in a small town out­side Nashville, Tenn., Mary­land of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Walt Bell used to spread out his football cards on the couch in the fam­ily room while watching col­lege and NFL games on tele­vi­sion with his fa­ther.

“I re­mem­ber try­ing to put them in po­si­tion and for­ma­tions like the guys on TV­did,” Bell, 32, re­called Wed­nes­day.

Know­ing from an early age that he wanted to go into football, not fol­low his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther into medicine, Bell be­gan study­ing of­fenses.

The first sys­tem Bell paid close at­ten­tion to was the “Air Raid” of­fense at Ken­tucky de­vel­oped by Hal Mumme. He watched oth­ers, too, such as Fisher DeBerry’s triple op­tion at Air Force and TomOs­borne’s ver­sion of the op­tion at Ne­braska.

“You start go­ing his­tor­i­cally through those great of­fenses and I’ve loved all of them,” Bell said. “Hope­fully when peo­ple watch us play, there’s el­e­ments of all of them.”

As the stage gets big­ger, with the un­beaten Terps play­ing at Penn State on Satur­day, the spot­light grows brighter on Bell. A vir­tual un­known as a sec­ond-year of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Arkansas State last sea­son, he could be­come one of the na­tion’s hot young as­sis­tants if the suc­cess con­tin­ues.

The im­pact Bell has had in Mary­land’s first four games has been spec­tac­u­lar: The Terps rank sev­enth in the coun­try in rush­ing at 300 yards a game. Bell has helped turn fifth-year se­nior quar­ter­back Perry Hills, mis­take–prone in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, into an ef­fec­tive game man­ager who had not com­mit­ted a turnover un­til he threw an in­ter­cep­tion on his first pass in last week’s 50-7 rout of Pur­due in the Big Ten opener.

“If you let us run the ball, that’s what we’re go­ing to do,” Bell said. “If you put eight, nine guys in [the box], we’re go­ing to throw the football. We’re the Yogi Ber­ras of of­fense; we’re go­ing where they ain’t.” Not that Bell is sat­is­fied. “Peo­ple see the num­ber on the score- board and au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that we’re do­ing a great job, that I’m do­ing a great job and we’re get­ting bet­ter,” Bell said. “That’s true and false. Any­time you run the ball for 400 yards you’re pretty proud. … But there was a plenty of bad…. I know a lot of peo­ple are ex­cited by how many points we scored. But we’re not the ’88 Nin­ers. We’ve got a long way to go. We are by no means a fin­ished prod­uct.”

What stuck out to Bell from Satur­day’s win — the most one-sided for the Terps in a con­fer­ence game since 2016 — was not the fact that sopho­more run­ning back Ty John­son rushed seven times for a ca­reer­high 204 yards and two touch­downs or that run­ning back Lorenzo Harrison’s 62yard touch­down run made him the first fresh­man in school his­tory to score in his first four games.

The play that gnawed at Bell was a third-quar­ter fum­ble by Hills, caused when two play­ers in front of him col­lided.

“That’s maybe as em­bar­rass­ing a mo­ment as I’ve ever had as a football coach,” Bell said Wed­nes­day.

Bell knows that the mis­takes the Terps made against the Boil­er­mak­ers were cov­ered up by Mary­land’s strong­est de­fen­sive per­for­mance since first-year coach DJ Durkin took over — as well as by Pur­due’s own of­fen­sive in­ef­fi­cien­cies.

“As the level of com­pe­ti­tion picks up ev­ery week, which it will — which is a nice thing about our sched­ule: Ev­ery week it’s go­ing to get a lit­tle bit bet­ter — we’ve got to start to reach our po­ten­tial,” Bell said. “We’re not there yet.”

Penn State coach James Franklin, the for­mer Terps of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, said dur­ing a Big Ten tele­con­fer­ence Tues­day that he has been im­pressed by what he seen of the Mary­land of­fense this sea­son.

Though the Terps ran a spread of­fense un­der Randy Ed­sall and Mike Lock­sley, Franklin has no­ticed a dif­fer­ence in the way it is run un­der Durkin and Bell.

“They are com­mit­ted to run­ning the football,” said Franklin said. “They do a good job of tak­ing ad­van­tage of an­gles and lever­age, with the calls to put their tight ends and of­fen­sive line in po­si­tion to gain an ad­van­tage. And ob­vi­ously their run­ning backs are able to make peo­ple miss and make big plays for them. Then they’ve got enough in the pass­ing game to keep you hon­est.” Satur­day, noon TV: Big Ten Net­work Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 11⁄

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