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Column: Bell will be a dangerous threat to IU's defense


By Connor Killoren




On the final day of August, a common welcoming day for each new college football season, a Play of the Year nomination unfolded before the rabid eyes of 78,709 spectators in attendance at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

The Boise State safety knew there would come a time when he would be responsible for fulfilling his task as the last line of defense.

Doing so against a player of average size typically carries a small degree of difficulty, but not against Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell. In that case, the degree of difficulty becomes exponential.

After all, a 6-foot-2-inch, 244-pound running back will steamroll through smaller defenders with ease, right?

Bell had different plans this time around. Instead of ramming through the Boise State defensive back like a Mack Truck, Bell displayed his best track and field impression, gracefully hurdling the defender.

Therein lies the challenge awaiting the IU defense Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, where the Hoosiers will meet the Michigan State Spartans in the annual Homecoming game.

For IU Coach Kevin Wilson’s squad to have any hope of defeating Michigan State for the first time in six painfully long years, shutting down Bell must be a focal point of the game plan.

Through five regular season games, the dynamic running back has accounted for roughly 41 percent of Michigan State’s total offensive output. That out-of-this-world figure is due in large part to Bell having received 134 of the Spartans’ 184 carries thus far.

Concisely, Bell is the heartbeat of Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio’s offense.

Perhaps the most descriptive microcosm of Bell’s 2012 season came against lowly Eastern Michigan in week four. During the 23-7 win against the Eagles, Bell accumulated a career-high 253 rushing yards on 36 carries, bringing his average yards per carry to seven.

The plight of the Eastern Michigan rushing defense that day is likely to be eerily similar to IU’s on Saturday.

The Hoosiers currently rank 107th nationally in rushing defense, allowing an average of 213.5 yards per game. There is not a single doubt the Spartans’ offensive coaching staff is licking its chops at the thought of what Bell is capable of against an incredibly ineffective IU front seven.

What makes the matchup even more bewildering is that IU hasn’t seen a running back of Bell’s size who also possesses uncanny agility and speed.

The Hoosier defense was befuddled by Indiana State’s Shakir Bell, a smaller back, so simply imagining what Bell is capable of has likely kept co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler awake at night this week.

The onus does not fall on Mallory and Ekeler, though.

It falls on senior defensive linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black, Jr., two of the veteran presences of an otherwise young IU defense. Replogle and Black must set the tone at the line of scrimmage early and often for fear of the Spartan offensive line having its way for all 60 minutes of regulation.

My Prediction

Since Dantonio was hired as Michigan State’s head coach in November 2006, he has built his programs on winning the battle in the trenches. That hasn’t been a strong suit for IU this season, leading me to believe the Spartans are in for a spoiling of IU’s Homecoming.

Michigan State 35, IU 10

­— ckillore@indiana.edu

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