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Reports: Terps Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell Leaving For Florida State

January 17, 2018
Maryland offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Walt Bell will depart for the same positions at Florida State, as first reported by Inside Maryland Sports.  
Bell held those positions the past two seasons in College Park, Md. Bell was hired in December 2015, shortly after DJ Durkin was named the Terps' head coach. Bell's tenure was marked by inconsistent results stemming from injuries at quarterback.
The Terps began the 2017 season by scoring a combined 114 points against Texas Sept. 2 and Towson Sept. 9, which provided a window into the possibilities with Tyrrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill at quarterback. But Pigrome and Hill both tore ACLs early in the season, forcing Max Bortenschlager into duty against UCF Sept. 23. Bortenschlager got the lion's share of the snaps the rest of the way, completing 51.9 percent of his passes and averaging 5.6 yards per throw. Caleb Henderson and walk-on Ryan Brand also got playing time.
All told, Maryland scored 24.1 points per game, good for 11th in the Big Ten. The Terps averaged 161.7 yards per game on the ground and through the air, with the former ranking eighth in the conference and latter ranking 12th. 
Maryland's 51-41 victory at Texas will be the fondest memory of the Bell era for Terps fans. Maryland gained 482 yards of offense, 263 of which came on the ground. The dual-threat ability of Pigrome, who ran 11 times for 64 yards in three quarters before he got hurt, opened up the entire offense. Edge defenders had to account for Pigrome, giving Ty Johnson (12 carries, 132 yards) and Lorenzo Harrison (11 carries, 45 yards) room to run. And Pigrome (14.6 yards per throw) got one-on-one matchups down the field that he could exploit.
Pigrome completed just 52.1 percent of his passes as a true freshman in 2016, oftentimes appearing overwhelmed. Though his performance against Texas lasted just three quarters, Pigrome looked like a new quarterback, reflecting well on Bell’s ability to develop passers.
Hill, who started against Towson and UCF, offered many of the same skills as Pigrome, along with a deft understanding of run-pass option reads. The Terps scored 63 points against Towson, the most points the team had scored in a game since 1954.
The Texas and Towson victories represented a fully functional Bell-led offense, the top priority of which was the running game. Bell didn't use a fullback or two tight end sets to create an advantage in the running game. He ran an up-tempo system in 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one running back, one tight end) or 10 personnel (four receivers, one back, no tight end). Bell used the threat of a running quarterback -- Pigrome or Hill -- to freeze a defender for Johnson or Harrison, and if the defender collapsed, the quarterback could take off. 

Maryland didn't run the ball as well after Hill's injury, averaging 131 yards on the ground over its last 10 games. Bell explained the issues the Terps were having in the running game in October.

One criticism Bell faced was the lack of production from tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Tight ends caught zero passes in 2017 while running backs caught just 17. Receivers DJ Moore and Taivon Jacobs were responsible for 127 of the Terps' 175 completions, and it was curious that Bell didn't diversify the passing game to fit Bortenschlager's strengths.
Bortenschlager isn't close to the runner that Pigrome is, nor can he dissect defenses like Hill can on run-pass options. Bortenschlager is more fit to run pro-style sets that feature quick reads to tight ends and backs on early downs to stay on schedule in terms of down and distance. Instead, Bortenschlager was left with scores of third and longs thanks to a less effective running game.
Plays like Bortenschlager's touchdown pass to running back Jake Funk at Minnesota in October -- Bortenschlager under center, play action rollout to the right -- were few and far between. Bell could've also tried to find Bortenschlager some easy throws to tight ends in the middle of the field, and tried more two back and two tight end sets to get the running game going.
That said, Bell did a solid job this year considering the injuries he faced at quarterback, and his departure represents a loss for the program. Maryland would've had a chance to win seven or eight games in 2017 had Pigrome or Hill stayed healthy and continued to develop under Bell. 
Durkin's steps in replacing Bell remain to be seen, but the next offensive coordinator likely will have a background in up-tempo, spread offense. That's what Durkin prefers -- as evidenced by his hire of Bell in the first place -- and it's a selling point with respect to recruiting athletes at skill positions. It's also a safe bet Durkin will look to hire someone who's had success developing dual-threat quarterbacks, considering how much of the Terps' future appears to depend on Pigrome and Hill.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox