October 23, 2009
For almost the entire second and a good part of the third quarter of Thursday night's Florida State-North Carolina tilt, various headlines were dancing in my head to describe FSU's embarrassing sacrifice on the altar of Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick. In their first seven possessions, the 'Noles punted four times, went three-and-out three times, fumbled once before they could get to three-and-out, settled for two field goals and had 83 net yards after penalties; less than four minutes into the third quarter, they trailed 24-6 against the best statistical defense in the ACC and were headed for the scrap heap, losing season and accompanying torch-and-pitchfork mob outside Bobby Bowden's house all but assured.
The headline instead, after four straight scoring drives and a 30-27 road win, is some variation on quarterback Christian Ponder's surname after his brilliant performance down the stretch: With virtually no threat of a running game against the best defense FSU will face before the finale in Gainesville, Ponder hit his last 16 passes, three for touchdowns, and finally pulled off the game-winning heroics in the final minute that eluded him on last-ditch drives against Miami and Boston College. I felt for Ponder when Jarmon Fortson couldn't hold on to his game-winning throw into the end zone to beat the 'Canes on Labor Day, and again last week, when he led six touchdown drives and finished with a ridiculous 201.8 pass efficiency rating against Georgia Tech, only to stand by while the defense allowed seven touchdowns and couldn't get the Jackets off the field in the last four minutes to give Ponder another chance in a 49-44 loss. It was big for him to finish the comeback in Chapel Hill.
In fact, it struck me as something of a one-man show, which -- when you consider that Ponder continues to lead the ACC in passing yards and completion percentage and owns the nation's best touchdown:interception ratio (12:1) after his sixth straight game without a pick, despite the total absence of a consistent running threat and a parade of must-throw situations opposite the conference's worst defense -- basically describes Florida State's offensive philosophy for the season:
(Tim Tebow, for the record, accounts for about 50 percent of Florida's total offense.) That number includes the 'Noles anomalous win at BYU, the only time the running really showed (313 yards on 49 carries) and in which Ponder was merely efficient (195 yards on 21-of-26 passing, two TDs in addition to 77 yards and a TD rushing). Every other game has been a to-the-wire dogfight in which Ponder has carried the overwhelming majority of the offensive load. After the offense's rally, coordinator Jimbo Fisher said he wouldn't trade Ponder for any other quarterback in the country, and even on a 3-4 team, it's hard to argue anyone could be doing more with as little support at the moment. But at least you know where not to point the finger for that record.