David Bell's incredible talent jumped right off the high school tape.
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has been even more impressed with the young receiver since he arrived on campus.
Just seven games into his Boilermakers career, Bell already has three 100-yard games, earned two Big Ten freshman of the week awards and the kind of endorsement most receivers spend a lifetime chasing.
"David reminds me of a young Jerry Rice for the fact that everything is smooth," Brohm said after Saturday's 26-20 loss at Iowa. "He doesn't look like he's going to make the spectacular play but always makes the play. He's solid and efficient. He runs good routes. Maybe he doesn't look like he's running a 4.2, but he's getting open versus press, versus off, he's making the contested catch."
Bell is doing it all — and at an extremely high level for a true freshman.
And it's exactly what Purdue (2-5, 1-3 Big Ten) needs now that injuries have decimated the roster. Brohm has played more than two dozen true or redshirt freshmen this season.
But Bell has performed like he's in a league of his own.
From the moment starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar went down with a broken left collarbone on the same play All-American receiver Rondale Moore went down with an injured left hamstring, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Indianapolis native instantly became the Boilermakers biggest and most dangerous offensive weapon. He has also been quarterback Jack Plummer's favorite target.
Following the departures of Sindelar and Moore during the Minnesota game, Bell provided a glimpse of what Brohm anticipated from last year's Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year. Bell caught eight passes for 114 yards as the Boilermakers remained competitive against the unbeaten Golden Gophers.
The following game, at Penn State, Bell was held to three catches for 56 yards.
Over the last two weeks, though, Bell has been almost unstoppable. He had nine receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Maryland and 13 receptions for 197 yards and one TD against Iowa's usually stingy defense. He leads Purdue with 39 receptions, 635 yards and four TD catches, is third in the conference in receptions per game (5.6) and second in yards receiving per game (90.7) — despite not being at full strength.
"He's a guy who's been nicked up ever since he got here and he probably still is," Brohm said. "But he keeps playing hard, so very proud of his effort."
Meanwhile, Brohm and Purdue fans can only contemplate what this offense might look like with Moore and Bell working together on the perimeter — a pairing that would cause headaches for defensive coordinators everywhere. Brohm told reporters Monday at his weekly news conference that Moore is doubtful for this weekend's game against Illinois (3-4, 1-3).
But with the Boilermakers needing four wins in their last five games to earn a third consecutive bowl bid and extend Brohm's personal streak of consecutive postseason appearances to six, they're going to continue leaning heavily on Bell.
"With where we are at right now, every game, we're going to have to utilize him and make sure we get others involved as well," Brohm said. "I think that's what separates him from the others sometimes is his ability to consistently make a catch, even when he's not wide open."
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