Indiana Daily Student

ANALYSIS: What does Walt Bell bring to Indiana football’s offense?

Indiana freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley looks for open receiver during the game against Minnesota on Nov. 20, 2021, at Memorial Stadium. Indiana hired Walt Bell as its new offensive coordinator Thursday.
Indiana freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley looks for open receiver during the game against Minnesota on Nov. 20, 2021, at Memorial Stadium. Indiana hired Walt Bell as its new offensive coordinator Thursday.

Indiana football officially announced the hiring of Walt Bell as offensive coordinator Thursday. Bell was most recently the head coach at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he went 2-23.

Previously, he had been the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State University, Maryland and most recently Florida State University, where he worked under then-head coach Willie Taggart. Indiana head coach Tom Allen was Taggart’s defensive coordinator at the University of South Florida in 2015. 

So, what does he bring to the table? Maryland tied Indiana to rank eighth in the Big Ten with 25.8 points per game in 2016, and ranked 11th with 24.1 in 2017.

Passing Game

Bell coached quarterbacks alongside being the offensive coordinator at his three previous stops and will do the same at Indiana. 

Across all of his coaching stops as an offensive coordinator and his time as head coach at Massachusetts, Bell’s quarterbacks completed 56.22% of their passes. That number only jumps to 56.46% if you just include his time with Power Five teams.

Perry Hills, the starting quarterback at Maryland in 2016 under Bell, led the conference in completion percentage in 2016 with 61.9%. 

Bell calls play-action passes for his starting quarterbacks more often than former Indiana offensive coordinators Kalen DeBoer and Nick Sheridan. Indiana called play-action for junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. less than 30% of the time, while only one of Bell’s seven starting quarterbacks was under 30%.

Indiana’s yards after catch plummeted when Sheridan took over from DeBoer following the 2019 season, dropping from 6.3 YAC per reception to 4.9 in two years with Sheridan. Under Bell, receivers averaged 6.2 YAC. When only including Bell’s work at Power Five schools, that number slightly jumps to 6.3.

Bell coached current Carolina Panthers receiver D.J. Moore at Maryland. Moore was the 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year and broke Maryland’s record for single season receptions that same year with 80. Moore was the first wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Running Game

Indiana’s rushing yards per game also took a dip during the DeBoer-Sheridan transition. The Hoosiers averaged 4.6 yards per attempt on rushes under DeBoer in 2019, which dipped to 4 under Sheridan in 2020-2021.

Through his time as an offensive coordinator and head coach, Bell’s teams have averaged 5.5 yards per attempt on the ground. Maryland’s Ty Johnson led the Big Ten in rushing yards per attempt in 2016 with 9.1.

During his time at Maryland, Bell also called more off-tackle runs than Sheridan did at Indiana. Under Sheridan, 57% of Indiana’s run plays went through the middle of the offensive line, between the line’s center and guards. Bell is more even, with just 44% of his teams’ runs going through the middle.

Sheridan’s runs outside the tackles averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt. Bell’s runs outside the tackles averaged 5.96 yards per attempt.

Bell has coached multiple NFL running backs during his coaching stops, including Jake Funk and Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams, J.D. McKissic of the Washington Football Team and Ty Johnson of the New York Jets.

Akers was selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and was set to start for the Rams before he was injured in the team’s training camp.

All statistics in this piece were sourced from Pro Football Focus.

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