Tudor: Pack must contain FSU's Ponder tonight

Staff WriterOctober 28, 2010 

Shortly after Florida State absorbed a staggering early season loss at Oklahoma, Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder made a vow that's beginning to resemble a prophecy.

"I'm never going to have another game like this again," Ponder said after the 47-17 outcome.

The trip to Norman all but ended a preseason Heisman Trophy push for Ponder by his school's publicity department.

An overwhelming choice for preseason ACC player of the year, he finished the game with 11 completions, 113 yards passing and gave up two interceptions.

But entering Thursday's game at N.C. State, Ponder has recovered to the extent that the Wolfpack may need Sooner-like results to get the edge in the ACC Atlantic Division race.

The general strategy used back on Sept. 11 by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Brent Venables wasn't exotic. But it was labor intensive.

Various Oklahoma defenders said they put the highest priorities on two tactics - keeping Ponder contained in the pocket and preventing mid-range sideline passes.

"We wanted to keep everything in the middle of the field," Sooner cornerback Jamell Fleming told reporters after the game. "Ponder sitting in the pocket really helped us defensive backs because it gave us the chance to just guard our receiver."

Junior linebacker Travis Lewis credited the strategy to condense the field on Ponder for winning the game.

"Our coaches had a great game plan today, not a good one but a great one," Lewis said.

Ponder was sacked four times. FSU's offense converted just 5 of 16 chances on third down and second-string quarterback E.J. Manuel, in a mop-up role, had the Seminoles' only significant completion.

Since then, Ponder has rarely struggled, although he did throw three interceptions after suffering a right-elbow injury early in the game against Boston College on Oct. 16.

He also threw two touchdown passes against the Eagles and earlier this week told reporters that the mishap may have been "a blessing in disguise" by forcing him to concentrate more on his fundamental throwing motion.

"I'm starting to use my core more, which is something I got away from this year," he said.

It's helped that when needed - 298 yards rushing at Miami - the Seminoles' ground game has provided impressive offensive balance.

But containing Ponder is still the key. State doesn't have Oklahoma's defensive depth and talent, meaning there will be a premium on execution.

"We'll have to be perfect to win," Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said.

In State's favor should be experience at linebacker with veterans Nate Irving, Audie Cole, Terrell Manning, Sterling Lucas, Dwayne Maddox and Asante Cureton.

The entire defense is more aggressive and in better health than the unit Ponder hit for 277 yards in a 45-42 win last season at Tallahassee.

But the key to narrowing the field - and Ponder's field of vision - will be largely determined by quickness in the secondary. The Pack's defensive backs are generally young, but they do have speed.

Fans probably will get a quick indication of how the night will go for those safeties and corners. If Ponder is able to consistently complete mid-range out passes on his first few series, State's defense may be playing catch-up in more ways than one.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver .com or 919-829-8946

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service