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Bell presents tough test for defense

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, September 13, 2012

Before facing the likes of quarterbacks Denard Robinson, Landry Jones and Matt Barkley, the Irish will have to contain yet another Heisman candidate in Michigan State junior running back Le’Veon Bell.

Only two games into the season, Bell is averaging 140 yards and two touchdowns per game, good enough for sixth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. But it is his versatility and durability that has Irish coach Brian Kelly worried.

“The challenge is that [Bell] plays, and he plays every down, and he keeps coming after you,” Kelly said. “He’s relentless, physical and I don’t know if this is fair to him, but he’s just a throwback [player]. I mean, he just keeps going. And the more carries he gets, the better he gets.

“But you know, that’s typical to the kind of runners that Michigan State has had. They are recruiting those kind of guys that just keep pounding the ball at you. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He is the complete back.”

The Columbus, Ohio, native possesses uncanny athleticism for a 6-foot-2, 244-pound running back, as the Spartans sometimes line him up as a receiver and use him as a pass blocker to pick up blitzes.

“I think Le’Veon, as I’ve said many times he’s a very good football player, is sort of a complete football player in the fact he can run down there, be on the kickoff team, be in the kick return team, return punts. He’s a great blocker,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s a physical guy and can withstand that physical type of environment he’s going to have to go through.”

Expectations for the junior rose to Heisman-level proportions following Michigan State’s gutty 17-13 win over No. 24 Boise State in its Aug. 31 season opener. Bell rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns on an astounding 44 carries and recorded career highs in rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions (6), receiving yards (55) and all-purpose yards (265).

“I didn’t expect to be touching the ball as many times as I did,” Bell said. “But the fact that I was in good enough shape and lifting a lot allowed my body to continue through the game.  

“We always wanted to run the ball.  Now we have the all star lineup to do it and these guys are experienced up front, we want to get back to running the football and help get pressure off of [redshirt-junior quarterback Andrew] Maxwell.

In 2010, the last time the Irish made the trek to East Lansing, Bell rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Spartans’ 34-31 overtime win. But last season, the Irish held the vaunted Michigan State rushing attack to only 29 yards – Bell accounted for 27 of the 29 yards – in a 31-13 upset win Sept. 18.

“You want to be balanced on offense,” Bell said. “[Notre Dame] can come out and be physical. They are going to want to stop the run early.  We want to run the ball early, so we might get stopped in the beginning of the game, but then we want to wear those guys out over the course of the game. Those four yard runs can turn into eight yard runs near the end of the game and that’s what we want to do, just wear guys out and run the ball hard.”

Kelly said the Irish rushing defense, which has held opposing teams to 3.4 yards per carry through two games this season, knows exactly what’s coming its way.  

“We know what kind of game it’s going to be,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a physical game.  You can’t win those games unless you play good run defense. There’s no chance.”

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu