Bell attracts attention as Terps offense hums
Despite impressive stats, ‘we’ve got a long way to go,’ unit’s coordinator warns
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⁄