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Kerwin Bell’s offense was perfected in Valdosta

USF’s new coordinator watched his offense flourish like never before last season.
Valdosta State quarterback Rogan Wells, whose dad played one season of basketball at USF, accounted for 50 touchdowns while leadi]ng the Blazers to a Division II national title last season. [VSU Athletics]
Valdosta State quarterback Rogan Wells, whose dad played one season of basketball at USF, accounted for 50 touchdowns while leadi]ng the Blazers to a Division II national title last season. [VSU Athletics]
Published Jan. 18, 2019
Updated Jan. 18, 2019

TAMPA ― In the wake of a six-game skid, many USF fans understandably are teeming with cynicism. For all the tantalizing sound bites about new coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense, they’d prefer to see the real product and not a rendering.

In lieu of potential, they’d rather have proof.

It’s there. Bell’s offense has, in fact, operated at maximum efficiency. It has produced championships. Heck, it has achieved perfection.

Look no farther than a few miles north of the Florida-Georgia border.

“We had the perfect players for the perfect system, that’s the way I look at it,” Bell said.

Related: Kerwin Bell assumes ‘total control’ of USF offense

The ideal manifestation of Bell’s playbook, culled from a variety of offensive minds and condensed for easy digestion, was delivered last fall by his 14-0 Valdosta State squad.

The Blazers, who won the Division II national title, possessed all the components necessary to make the Bell system hum: an athletic, astute quarterback; veteran offensive line; and speed (but not necessarily size) on the flank.

Every skill guy was a redshirt sophomore or younger. Every lineman was a redshirt sophomore or older.

“We just had that special kid there at quarterback, and we had those playmakers and that great line,” Bell said.

The results have been well-documented: Valdosta State averaged 523.9 yards per game, and led all of Division II in yards per play (7.89). Its balance was uncanny: 261.3 passing yards and 262.6 rushing yards per game.

“They’re very attack-style,” Ferris State coach Tony Annese said.

The Blazers outlasted Annese’s squad, 49-47, in the D-II national title game, the 12th contest in which Valdosta scored at least 45 points. By that game’s conclusion, three Valdosta receivers ― none taller than 5-foot-10 ― had eclipsed 400 receiving yards for the season.

Redshirt freshman Jamar Thompkins had run for more than 1,200. And third-year sophomore QB Rogan Wells had accounted for more than 3,800 total yards and 50 touchdowns.

“All these kids were all freshmen and sophomores, so we had recruited specifically to the system,” Bell said Wednesday from his still-sparse office on the Selmon Center’s second floor.

“And you say what does that mean? A lot of speed and explosive players that we liked, that could get open, that could separate from defenders. Explosive backs who hit the hole and they could give you explosive plays in the ground game. ... We had a great offensive line, one of the most athletic lines I’ve ever been around.”

But the key cog was Wells, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound dual threat whose dad, Rick, appeared in one game for the 1986-87 USF basketball team.

The archetype of a Bell-system QB, Wells completed more than 57 percent of his passes (209-for-364) for 3,075 yards, 38 TDs and only four interceptions. Endowed with 4.5 speed (according to Bell), he added 732 rushing yards and 11 TDs, finishing as runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the top player in D-II.

“He was a great decision maker,” Bell said.

"When I pick a quarterback, it’s not gonna be the guy that’s gonna throw it through the wall or throw it 80 yards or is gonna have this special play two or three times in a game.

“I’d like to have that...but I want that guy that’s consistent every play, is gonna make decisions and is gonna have those intangibles I look for. And this kid has that.”

Related: Roundtable: Can Kerwin Bell be the answer to USF’s offensive coaching woes?

With Wells (grandson of former Gators coach Doug Dickey) at the helm, Valdosta ran an offense that was complex without being confusing. Its tempo was fast but not frenetic. Wells had progressions, checkdowns, sometimes in profusion.

“People say, ‘How can you do all that stuff?’” Bell said.

“Well, the way we built our system over 18 years is, we took an NFL system with all that long verbiage, and we’ve condensed into some very small, simplistic verbiage. So now we can get guys moved all over the field and in motion and doing all this stuff, and our kids can learn it within a week.”

The Blazers proved as much.

Now, the Bulls can prove it again.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.