It took until the end of October for Notre Dame to finally surrender a rushing touchdown last season. And that was only after Blake Bell and the vaunted Oklahoma Belldozer package had multiple cracks at it in the Notre Dame red zone.
Bell may have found pay dirt against a historically stingy Irish defense, but Notre Dame scored 20 fourth quarter points and pulled away from the Sooners in a shocking 30-13 victory in Norman, the most impressive win of the Brian Kelly era.
With Landry Jones gone to the NFL, it’s now Bell’s turn to head to Notre Dame and do his best to spoil the Irish’s season. One of college football’s top supporting cast members, it look longer than expected for Bell to be named the leading man of the Irish offense. Head coach Bob Stoops named redshirt freshman Trevor Knight his starting quarterback out of camp. But after a shaky start to the season and a minor knee injury, Bell took over against Tulsa, throwing for over 400 yards in his first start.
That makes for quite a combination at quarterback. A battering ram of a runner who scored 24 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons, and a guy that now looks like he can beat you through the air. At 6-foot-6, 250-pounds, it’s not surprising that Bell’s gene pool had some success in the NFL — as defensive ends.
“My dad and uncle both played tight end and defensive end,” Blake Bell told Jason Kersey of the Oklahoman. “There aren’t really any quarterback genes. But starting from a young age, I always wanted to play quarterback, so that’s just kind of how it went.
“I just feel like that’s another key to my game, just being a little bigger and having a little bit more weight, being able to take some hits in the pocket. It’s always seemed like I’ve been bigger since I was little.”
Keeping Bell in the pocket might be the key to the game for the Irish, whose pass rush saw signs of life last weekend against Michigan State. The Irish only got to the Spartans quarterback once, but they got plenty of pressure late in the game when it mattered most.
Last year, the Irish completely shut down the Oklahoma ground game, holding the Sooners to just 15 net yards on 24 carries. And after Bell’s fourth quarter touchdown run pulled the game even, it was all Irish from there.
“I think last year they made all the plays down the stretch in the last six minutes of the game and that’s what changed the game,” Stoops said today in a conference call with reporters. “It was 13-13 game with six minutes to go, and they make all the plays at the end.”
Bell’s game certainly won’t be that of an elusive quarterback. For all his exploits as a runner, he’s still never averaged four yards a carry. But he presents one of the biggest challenges (no pun intended) the Irish will face on offense, just because he’s able to do so many things effectively, and use his power to convert third downs.
With a rededicated rushing attack and offensive personnel that’s quite deep with playmakers, the Irish defense will face a stiff test to replicate what it pulled off in Norman last season. Objective A is to slow down Bell. As we’ve seen over the past few years, that’s easier said than done.