ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team has multiple future NFL wide receivers who will finish the season with gaudy stats, but when the Wolverines really needed to make a play in big moments against Army, it was Ronnie Bell who came through time after time.
Bell led Michigan with seven catches for 81 yards in what was otherwise a struggle offensively. Freshman running back Zach Charbonnet will rightfully get most of the praise after rushing for 100 yards and three touchdowns, but Bell was the player who saved Michigan in several tight spots.
It didn't take long for quarterback Shea Patterson to establish Bell as his go-to receiver. With Michigan facing an early third and 10 from its own 39-yard line, Bell caught a 12-yard pass to move the chains and get the ball to midfield.
That ended up being one of only two catches for Bell in the first half.
It wasn't until perhaps the biggest moment of the third quarter when Bell reappeared. Lavert Hill had just intercepted a pass in the red zone to prevent Army from taking a seemingly insurmountable two-score lead.
Patterson and Charbonnet led Michigan down the field, but faced a critical third and 7 at the Army 27-yard line.
Bell broke open to Patterson's right and caught the pass heading toward the sideline. He picked up the first down easily and got down to Army's 2-yard line, setting up what would ultimately be the game-tying touchdown.
Without that third-down conversion, Michigan likely would have settled for a field goal and might not have even gotten to overtime.
Bell was even more involved on the following drive, when he caught three passes for 32 yards in what should have set up the go-ahead field goal.
Michigan faced another third and 7 at midfield when Patterson found Bell for an 11-yard gain. On the next play, Bell caught a 12-yard pass to get Michigan inside the 30-yard line.
Michigan ultimately tried to convert a fourth and 2 instead of kicking a field goal to take a late 17-14 lead.
Then, when it started looking really grim for Michigan in overtime -- Army held a 21-14 lead and Michigan faced a third and 6 at the 21-yard line -- Bell made another clutch grab for nine yards to move the chains and set up the touchdown that sent the game to double overtime.
During the two most critical game-tying touchdown drives and the drive that should have set up the go-ahead field goal, Patterson went to Bell to move the chains and keep Michigan alive.
He wasn't a four- or five-star recruit like Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins or Tarik Black, but Bell was the most important receiver on the field Saturday and perhaps the biggest reason Michigan is still undefeated.
Michigan's coaching staff praised Bell as a breakout player during fall camp. After his clutch performance against Army, it looks like that offseason hype might have been real.