Bell tolls for OSU defense

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Sept. 15, with the third victory of the season put to bed and all his work done for the day, Urban Meyer settled in at home and flipped on the television.

The Ohio State coach was just in time to catch the second half and squeeze in a little advance scouting as Michigan State battled Notre Dame, and it didn't take long for something to literally jump up and grab his attention.

Le'Veon Bell has turned his ability to hurdle defenders into a signature move, and he unleashed one in the third quarter against the Irish that Meyer was still talking about several days later even as he prepared his team for a different opponent, its final nonconference tuneup before taking on the Spartans.

It was the kind of athletic play the Buckeyes are seeking more of on offense, and it might have provided a bit of a heads-up for a defense that has struggled even making straightforward tackles heading into its Big Ten opener on the road Saturday.

"He reminds me of [former Wisconsin star] Ron Dayne, even a little more athletic," Meyer said. "He's a guy, extremely strong, powerful guy that times up his blocks very well and runs through tackles.

"You see athleticism people that size usually don't have."

Bell, a native of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, has put it on full display this season by elevating his 6-foot-2, 244-pound frame up and over tacklers, using his hurdle to tack on yardage that might not even qualify as coming after contact, with defenders whiffing as the big man floats past them.

That move obviously isn't the only one in Bell's arsenal as he has put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation with a Big Ten-leading 610 yards through four games. He has a powerful stiff-arm, he's patient and reads blocks well, and when needed, he's just as capable of running through tackles as avoiding them through the air.

And even if the Buckeyes haven't necessarily gone out of their way to watch the highlight reel Bell has put together early in the season, there's no question they're aware of the challenge ahead of them as they move on from a perfect start outside the conference and jump into Big Ten play with the only matchup of two ranked teams in the conference this week.

"I mean, he's jumped over guys, he's spun off guys -- he's a good player," linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "You have to stop him well before he gets going. A big back like that is hard to bring down if he gets moving, so you have to stop him before he gets going.

"I can't wait. It should be a good challenge for our defense facing a good running back, and it should be a good way to start off Big Ten play."

Bell certainly figures to provide the toughest test the Buckeyes will have faced on the ground this season, though Michigan State's style of play might actually work in Ohio State's favor. Ohio State's defense is ranked last in the league in yardage allowed after an inconsistent couple of games.

The Buckeyes have missed several tackles on the perimeter early in the season, though they've largely been stretched sideline to sideline by spread offenses and forced to make most of their plays in open spaces. Michigan State will likely try to attack that way as well on occasion, but the Spartans typically employ a much more traditional offense, and that could play to the strength of the Ohio State defense up front.

But no matter how the Spartans choose to attack, the top priority for the Buckeyes won't change -- keep Bell on the ground.

"That is a huge concern," Meyer said. "That is the concern on that side of the ball.

"If it turns into a 200-yard rushing day where they knock you into next week, then we're going to lose the game. But I think our defense is kind of built for this."

Bell is first in line to check how sturdy that foundation is for the Ohio State defense.

Hitting the century mark

Since the start of the 2011 season, Ohio State's defense has allowed five different rushers to top 100 yards in a game -- and it won just one of those games, putting the pressure on to shut down Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell on Saturday: