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Kerwin Bell’s Offensive Philosophy: The Fun and Gun

Last year we had the Veer and Shoot, now we have the Fun and Gun.

Georgia Tech v South Florida Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last season, we dove into the Veer and Shoot offense that Sterlin Gilbert brought from Texas.

With the announcement of his hire, we’ll now have the Kerwin Bell offense that produced one of the most electric teams in Division II football at Valdosta State.

In case you have been living under a rock, the Valdosta State Blazers completed a perfect season at 14-0, and scored 52.0 points per game. To put that into perspective, Clemson just capped off a 15-0 season at Division I and averaged 44.0 points per game. Oklahoma had the nations top scoring offense with 48.4.

The 52.0 points per game was hardly needed, as Valdosta’s defense kept teams at bay until the fourth quarter when backups were playing.

Back to the important stuff, what kind of offense is Bell bringing to the Tampa Bay area? Last season I called the Veer n Shoot “a whole lotta yardage going on”, but Bell’s offense can be described as “a whole lotta scoring going on.”

When Bell was hired at Valdosta State from Jacksonville University, his offense was described as a professional passing game he learned from Lindy Infante with the Colts, combined with the spread offense that Steve Spurrier ran at the University of Florida.

Something Bulls fans will enjoy hearing about is his offensive philosophy, and that’s scoring.

“I believe in scoring and if we get ahead by 21, we’re trying to get 28. We’re not settling on 21. It’s going to be fun”.

There were times last year that USF had the opportunity to put more points on the board, but chose to be conservative, and it appears Bell has no intention of following suit.

Bell didn’t inherit a star studded roster at VSU. In fact, three of the four leading receivers were sophomores, the fourth was a freshmen. Starting QB Rogan Wells is a redshirt sophomore and starting running back Thompkins is a freshman, and a majority of the Blazers’ roster are underclassmen.

The offense was a nearly perfectly balanced attack, with the team rushing for 3,676 yards and passing for 3,658. This resulted with 7.2 yards per rush and 8.73 yards per pass, or 15.18 yards per catch. With 50 passing touchdowns and 40 rushing touchdowns, almost every player on Valdosta State’s roster who contributed found the end zone at some point during the season.

Bell’s strength in his offensive playbook was the utilization of his players’ talents and skills to create a system that flat-out works. The offense works primarily out of shotgun formation, with a running back in the sidecar next to the QB. Wells is an athletic quarterback who can throw on the run well, and was not afraid to tuck it and run if need be. He ended up second in rushing yards on the team with 896 yards (although lost 164 yards on sacks, leaving him with net 732 yards).

Play action passes are extremely common for Bell’s offense, and will utilize many disguises to get linebackers and safeties to bite. This means guards will pull into pass coverage, and running backs will be used in both pass protections and run routes as a safety valve.

The receivers in the Fun and Gun have longer, more developed routes that utilized their speed and ability to gain separation on the defensive backs and linebackers. The aforementioned four leading receivers for the Blazers are all under six feet tall, but instead of putting them in jump ball situations, the routes depended on separation.

Seams, crossing routes, posts, and corners are staples in this offense and receivers will rarely run a route that does not go past the first down marker. This can be credited to Spurrier’s offensive philosophy to not dink and dunk down the field.

More good news for USF is that Bell’s offense utilizes tight ends in the passing game frequently. Bell also frequently used fullbacks, but with the way they were used, they would be easily substituted for tight ends. The TE/FB would often line up in the wing/up back and either release as a safety valve, run a route that freed up underneath coverage, or be an extra blocker.

Now, after all that, you must be thinking “wow that’s absolutely perfect! There’s nothing that can go wrong for USF’s offense in 2019!” Well there’s a few wrinkles that could end up being with a few growing pains for the Bulls.

First off, Rogan Wells was only sacked 19 times through 14 games. Meanwhile, USF quarterbacks were sacked 38 times last year. The Blazers offensive line was extremely effective at keeping Wells clean, as well as providing running lanes for running backs.

Running back Jamar Thompkins rushed for 1,339 yards and only lost 10 yards the ENTIRE season. The hope is that the freshmen last year gained valuable experience, and with Marcus Norman and Billy Atterbury leading the way with a fresh offensive philosophy.

Secondly, the transition from Division II to Division I FBS is a big one. The defenses are faster, more disciplined, and more complex to dissect. Although, we have seen teams utilize similar offensive schemes and philosophies that ended up working wonders, we will also need to see in-game adjustments and player development in order for Bell to be a successful offensive coordinator.

Lastly, everything falls on the shoulders of Blake Barnett, who will be on his fourth offensive coordinator in three years.

Barnett will have the benefit of the entire spring to learn the playbook and develop his chemistry with his receivers further. Hopefully this will lead to minimizing turnovers, as Wells only threw four interceptions last season.

Personally, I’m very excited to see Bell call plays for USF next year. His philosophy to score at will and make big plays should have Bulls fans excited for the future. If there’s any doubt to his abilities as an offensive play caller, I would like to point out the clip below.

In the fourth quarter of the Division II national championship last year, after Ferris State had marched 96 yards to bring it to a one score game, VSU was faced with a second and seven from the Ferris State 25 yard line with 11:45 left in the game.

Coming out of a timeout, Bell called a trick play. Wells sent backup QB Ivory Durham in motion, handed the ball off to him and went out on a wheel route to catch a TD pass to make the score 49-38. VSU was able to hold off a late comeback to win 49-47, which was by far the closest game that the Blazers had all year.

This willingness to adapt and use a trick play during the most important game of the season should be a precedent for USF going forward, not being complacent and doing whatever it takes to score more points than the other team.