In order to shake off last week’s struggles and return to early-season form on Nov. 23 against Purdue, the Wisconsin defensive unit will have to make sure to shut down freshman WR David Bell. With Purdue’s star freshman receiver from last year, Rondale Moore, out since Sept. 28 with a hamstring injury, Bell has had to adapt to a starting position and facing opponents’ #1 cornerback.
Bell, a four-star recruit, was the 19th ranked wide receiver in the recruiting class of 2019 according to 247 Sports and chose Purdue over other offers from high-profile programs like Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Penn State. He announced his commitment at the 2019 All-American Bowl in January, where he played on the East team with Wisconsin freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw for a record-setting five touchdowns in the showcase game.
Just a few weeks into his true freshman season, the skills that made him such a highly touted recruit out of high school proved transferable to the college game. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm noted in late October during an interview with Sports Illustrated that Bell’s game is reminiscent of one legendary receiver that would go on to enjoy enormous success in college and the NFL.
“David reminds me of a young Jerry Rice for the fact that everything is smooth,” Brohm said. “He doesn’t look like he’s going to make the spectacular play, but he always makes the play.”
The 6’2”, 210 lbs wide receiver brings size to the matchup with the Badgers, as he is taller and heavier than all but two of Wisconsin’s 20 cornerbacks and safeties, as well as being larger than almost all of UW’s 16 receivers. Bell’s unique size gives him an advantage on 50/50 balls, but with Purdue’s top two quarterbacks both out for the season, sophomore Aidan O’Connell has taken the first substantial snaps of his college career, with his first start coming against Northwestern on Nov. 9. Against Wisconsin’s defense, ranked fourth in the country in total statistics, O’Connell may be looking to his big-framed wideout early and often.
The true freshman has 791 yards and five touchdowns so far this season, with almost 300 more yards than Wisconsin’s top receiver, Quintez Cephus, who has 504 to his name. Purdue’s offense relies on the passing game much more than the Badgers’, who can rely on Jonathan Taylor and the running game to push the ball down the field. Purdue’s entire rushing staff is 500 yards short of Taylor’s amount thus far this season.
With Purdue’s reliance on getting into the red zone through the air, Bell and the rest of their receiving corps have had to carry the team’s offense so far in their 4-6 season, and will likely have to continue asserting themselves against UW this weekend.