The challenge of slowing down Bell

Just how well Indiana fares tonight in its season opener could come down to the success it has against ISU's Shakir Bell.

Indiana must find a way to slow down Shakir Bell tonight against Indiana State?

It sounds easy enough, right?

After all, it's not that Bell has great size. He's 5-8 and weighs 185.

But he's quick, elusive and shifty. He can make people miss. He can get to the outside and turn that corner. And when he runs between tackles, he seems to have another gear.

Indiana saw that extra gear first hand last year. When the two teams met on Sept. 1, Bell ran for 192 yards on 24 carries including a 54 yard touchdown run that gave the Sycamores a 7-0 lead at the 6:28 mark of the first quarter.

He also caught four passes out of the backfield for 31 yards.

IU found a way to win the game, 24-17, but Bell clearly made a statement. He also forced red flags to go up on the IU defensive side of the ball.

It put a bad taste in the mouths of IU defenders that they still think about today.

"He's a great running back and we have complete respect for him,'' said fifth-year senior safety Greg Heban. "We know that stopping Bell is a big key if we're going to stop Indiana State. We need to trust our reads and stay in our lanes and do the things we know we can do.''

IU coach Kevin Wilson said late last week that Bell is the FBC's equivalent of a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Everyone knows his accomplishments in his first three seasons at Indiana State. He had 1,475 yards on 269 carries. He averaged 134.1 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. He ran for more than 100 yards seven times. The year before he ran for 1,670 yards and broke the school's single season rushing mark.

Bell now has 3,794 yards for his career which is third on ISU's all-time list. He has reached 100 yards rushing in 19 of his 33 career games. Vincent Allen (4,335 yards from 1973-77) and David Wright (4,181 yards from 1992-95) are the only two players to sit ahead of Bell on the ISU all-time career rushing list. Additionally, Bell is less than 1,000 yards away from reaching Herb Donaldson at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference record book for career rushing yards. Donaldson had 4,746 rushing yards at Western Illinois from 2005-08 and Bell is just 953 yards away from reaching his career total.

So is Bell unstoppable? There are a few teams on Indiana State's schedule just from last season that might disagree.

Against Quincy a year ago, Bell had 69 yards on 19 carries. Against South Dakota State he was limited to 54 yards on 18 carries. He also had 54 yards in those same 18 carries against Youngstown State.

In fact, in the four games last year when he didn't gain over 100 yards, Bell was limited to 273 yards on 81 carries. That's a 3.4 yard average.

But then there's also the game he had last year against Drake. That day, Bell had a school-record 349 yards rushing on 33 carries. He destroyed the previous school record of 256 yards that he held from 2011.

So while Bell is capable of huge numbers, he has also been somewhat of a mixed bag. Indiana needs to find a way to keep Bell more toward the lower end of those averages.

"It's a great challenge for us,'' said IU linebacker David Cooper. "This is what it's all about for us. Lining up against players that are as good as Shakir Bell and seeing exactly where we're at.''

Indiana will certainly know the answer to that question at some point on Thursday evening.

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