Once the Spartans' bruising running back got going, the Horned Frogs had no way of stopping him.
Bell ran for 107 of his 145 yards in the second half and helped set up Dan Conroy for a 47-yard field goal with 1:01 left, sending TCU to a 17-16 loss to Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Saturday night.
"They had 227 yards of offense and the guy ran for 145," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You have to give him credit."
TCU (7-6) shut down Michigan State's offense in the first half by stuffing Bell and did just enough when it had the ball to build a 13-point halftime lead.
In the second half, the Horned Frogs couldn't get anything going against the Spartans' defense - 84 total yards - and its defense gave up a long scoring drive in the third quarter, along with the game-winner in the fourth.
Trevone Boykin threw for 201 yards and an interception on 13-of-29 passing for the Horned Frogs.
"A little bit empty feeling inside because we felt like we left a lot on the field," Patterson said.
It wasn't always pretty for the Spartans.
Michigan State (7-6) labored through the first half, managing 76 yards of offense as TCU closed in around Bell.
The 237-pound junior started to wear the Horned Frogs down in the second half, leading the Spartans on the longest drive in their bowl history in the third quarter, a 90-yard march that set up freshman Connor Cook's 15-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Burbridge.
Michigan State then recovered a muffed punt by TCU's Skye Dawson at the 4-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and Bell scored two plays later by racing around left end for a 14-13 lead.
TCU (7-6) still had a little life after blowing the halftime lead, moving just far enough to set up Jaden Oberkrom for the longest field goal in the bowl's history, a 53-yarder that put the Horned Frogs up 16-14 with 2:42 left.
They left Michigan State just a little too much time.
Starting at their own 25-yard line, the Spartans moved 45 yards in eight plays, setting up Conroy for his second game-winner in a bowl after beating Georgia with a 28-yarder in the third overtime of the 2012 Outback Bowl.
Michigan State's defense held after that, sending the Spartans to their second straight bowl win after three consecutive losses.
"With so many close games and losing like we did during the season, to have one go our way was definitely sweet," Conroy said.
TCU and Michigan State came to the desert with an awful lot of similarities.
The biggest difference between the teams was Bell.
The junior was third nationally with 137.3 yards rushing per game and had 1,648 on the season, second-most in Michigan State history and 242 fewer than TCU had as a team.
Early on, the Horned Frogs gave him nowhere to go.
Filling holes inside and stringing plays out toward the sidelines, TCU stuffed the bruising Bell on nearly every touch, holding him to 38 yards on 11 carries in the first half.
Of course, it didn't seem to matter what Michigan State did. The Spartans had 29 yards on 12 plays in the first quarter and weren't a whole lot better in the second, with Maxwell throwing two near-interceptions on consecutive passes and an ill-advised trick play that probably should have resulted in a turnover, too.
The Spartans still seemed to be stuck in the ruts in the third quarter before grinding out a 14-play scoring drive led by Cook, who replaced Maxwell for the second time in the game. They had their biggest play on a floating pass from Bell to fullback TyQuan Hammock (29 yards), then Cook threw his first career touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Burbridge on a crossing route that cut TCU's lead to 13-7.
"I thought Connor did a good job on the 90-yard drive, gave us a little momentum," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said.
Michigan State got a break when it recovered the muffed punt to set up Bell's touchdown and its defense dominated TCU throughout the second half.
With Michigan State clogging the running lanes and chasing Boykin around, TCU had 30 yards of offense in the third quarter and continued to struggle in the fourth. The Horned Frogs did manage the short scoring drive to set up Oberkrom's late field goal, but ended up going backward on their final drive after Conroy's kick.
"What I thought happened in the third quarter was Michigan State dialed up the heat and we didn't have an answer," Patterson said.
Michigan State did - for one of the few times this season.
TCU Bowl History (Record 13-15-1)
|Dec. 29, 2012||Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl-Michigan State 17, TCU 16|
|Dec. 21, 2011||Poinsettia Bowl-TCU 31, Louisiana Tech 24|
|Jan. 1, 2011||Rose Bowl-TCU 21, Wisconsin 19|
|Jan. 4, 2010||Fiesta Bowl-Boise State 17, TCU 10|
|Dec. 23, 2008||Poinsettia Bowl-TCU 17, Boise State 16|
|Dec. 28, 2007||Texas Bowl-TCU 20, Houston 13|
|Dec. 19, 2006||Poinsettia Bowl-TCU 37, Northern Illinois 7|
|Dec. 31, 2005||Houston Bowl-TCU 27, Iowa State 24|
|Dec. 23, 2003||Fort Worth Bowl-Boise State 34, TCU 31|
|Dec. 31, 2002||Liberty Bowl-TCU 17, Colorado State 3|
|Dec. 28, 2001||Galleryfurniture.com Bowl-Texas A&M 28, TCU 9|
|Dec. 20, 2000||Mobile Alabama Bowl-Southern Miss. 28, TCU 21|
|Dec. 22, 1999||Mobile Alabama Bowl-TCU 28, East Carolina 14|
|Dec. 31, 1998||Sun Bowl-TCU 28, Southern California 19|
|Dec. 28, 1994||Independence Bowl-Virginia 20, TCU 10|
|Dec. 31, 1984||Bluebonnet Bowl-West Virginia 31, TCU 14|
|Dec. 31, 1965||Sun Bowl-Texas-El Paso 13, TCU 12|
|Dec. 19, 1959||Bluebonnet Bowl-Clemson 23, TCU 7|
|Jan. 1, 1959||Cotton Bowl-TCU 0, Air Force 0, tie|
|Jan. 1, 1957||Cotton Bowl-TCU 28, Syracuse 27|
|Jan. 2, 1956||Cotton Bowl-Mississippi 14, TCU 13|
|Jan. 1, 1952||Cotton Bowl-Kentucky 20, TCU 7|
|Jan. 1, 1948||Delta Bowl-Mississippi 13, TCU 9|
|Jan. 1, 1945||Cotton Bowl-Oklahoma State 34, TCU 0|
|Jan. 1, 1942||Orange Bowl-Georgia 40, TCU 26|
|Jan. 2, 1939||Sugar Bowl-TCU 15, Carnegie Mellon 7|
|Jan. 1, 1937||Cotton Bowl-TCU 16, Marquette 6|
|Jan. 1, 1936||Sugar Bowl-TCU 3, LSU 2|
|Jan. 1, 1921||Fort Worth Classic-Centre 63, TCU 7|