When Maryland football offensive coordinator Walt Bell steps to the podium before addressing the media each week, he smiles and says he can trust only the reporters whose mobile recording devices face upward — screens exposed — in front of him.
Bell continues his banter as he takes questions.
The coach explained his no-excuses attitude toward Maryland’s passing game last season by saying, “If they snap us a watermelon, we’ll find a way to throw a completion.” During a tangent about quarterback Max Bortenschlager’s development a couple of weeks ago, Bell likened Bortenschlager’s steady growth to becoming the world’s best gum chewer, a tedious process that involves chewing every day to improve.
Bell compared running back Anthony McFarland’s ongoing recovery from a broken fibula to marinating food.
Bell’s unusual style extends to Maryland’s offense, which has found success since he came to College Park in 2016, despite cycling through six quarterbacks, eight running backs and eight wide receivers over the past two seasons. Bell, just 33 years old, uses trick plays, pre-snap motions and a variety of formations to unsettle opponents.
The Terps appreciate his creative approach. They put up 42 points against Indiana on Saturday — the third time they scored at least that much this year — demonstrating the potential of their up-tempo attack.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Bortenschlager said. “Every week [Bell] has a new little added feature to the offense that we try to implement.”
Sometimes, the trickery doesn’t pan out. Maryland began its opening drive at then-No. 10 Ohio State with a flea flicker, but Bortenschlager took a sack.
However, there’s plenty of promise from a group on its third-string quarterback, after starting signal-callers Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill suffered season-ending ACL tears. The Terps have the fourth-best scoring offense in the Big Ten.
When Maryland played Towson, wide receiver DJ Moore took an end-around handoff 21 yards for a touchdown, showing the unconventional ways Bell involves his skill players.
“It helps me get the ball in different ways,” Moore said in September. “The short yardage, the screens is what I like the most because it gives me the opportunity to go have fun in space and show who I am.”
Bell’s only offensive coordinator gig prior to arriving at Maryland was at Arkansas State, where he spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Before that, he was the tight ends coach at North Carolina and wide receivers coach at Southern Miss.
Still, Bell has held the offense together despite numerous setbacks under center, an adjustment DJ Durkin commended after the Terps beat Indiana.
With Maryland starting Bortenschlager, who doesn’t have the running ability of Pigrome or Hill, Bell added wrinkles to his already unpredictable offense to help running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison find space.
Bell distracts opposing defenses that stack the line of scrimmage by motioning receivers across the field and lining up in new ways. Early against the Hoosiers this past weekend, the Terps lined up all three wide receivers on one side of the field.
Maryland rushed for 174 yards in the contest.
“It’s nice to be motioned out and to move around a little bit, not always being in the base alignment,” Johnson said. “It gives defenses different looks and it just makes defenses have to think about how they’re going to call a play and how they’re going to defend.”
While Maryland has failed to reach 300 total offensive yards in two of its three matchups against ranked teams this year, its 345-yard display to beat Indiana demonstrated its ability to bamboozle the next tier of opponents.
“We’re the Yogi Berras of offense,” Bell joked last season. “We’re going where they ain’t.”