Tallahassee, FL - Florida State’s physical preparation for Thursday night’s ESPN game at NC State is complete. Now it’s time to put that practice to a real-time test.
“I thought we’ve practiced well,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve just got to go play well. Sometimes on an off week, the big thing is you practice too much. I mean, you’re ready to play. You’re tired of practice.
“You’ve got to remember the game time and get your preparation and get it done.”
A day after pronouncing himself fit for the game, quarterback Christian Ponder will be back under center for the 16th-ranked Seminoles in an highly anticipated match-up with his NC State counterpart, Russell Wilson. While Ponder’s passing statistics have not measured up to the high standard he set a year ago, he’s more than happy to be winning.
FSU heads into the game with a 6-1 record overall and 4-0 in ACC play. That’s quite a different scenario than a year ago, when the ‘Noles were 3-4 overall and just 1-3 in league play through seven games.
Fisher, however, isn’t worried about the passing game or the guy at the controls, even after Ponder suffered a broken bursa sac in his right elbow during the first quarter of the Oct. 16 win against Boston College. Ponder accepted responsibility for throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in the win over the Eagles and insisted the elbow did not have anything to do with the performance.
The swelling has subsided and both coach and quarterback have been pleased with the way he has thrown the ball since returning to practice Saturday.
“The arm’s fine,” Fisher said. “He’s throwing really well.”
More to the point, Fisher has no doubt that Ponder will continue to do the things that have led the Seminoles to their best start since 2003, whether it’s passing, running or making the correct decisions as the offensive leader.
“The passing game’s fine,” said Fisher. “We’ve got to protect and get guys where they need to be and we’ll be all right. …
“The guy has played one bad half. He’s played great. He’s leading us in third down (conversions) and led us in red zone (conversions). The guy has bounced back his whole career and he had one bad half. He’ll play well and do well.”
While Ponder’s passing stats are down from a year ago, he has thrown exactly the same number of touchdown passes (12) as he did through the first seven games last season. More importantly, the Seminoles have vastly improved their third-down and red zone touchdown conversion rates.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles will try and get the running game back on track against the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-1 ACC). FSU is averaging 211 rushing yards a game behind the tailback trio of Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson and Ty Jones, all of whom are healthy and rested for the trip to Raleigh, N.C.
“We have executed well (in practice),” Fisher said of the running game. “We’ll do what we do and try to execute it better; get the right looks and get them in and out of the right plays. I think we’ll be in good shape.
“We’ve ran well in practice the last two or three days; ran well against our defense, too.”
Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ unit, which must contend with Wilson, has been solid from the start. The Seminoles are surrendering 12 fewer points and 105 fewer yards than they did a year ago at this point, and have been especially stingy in the red zone.
A year ago, FSU’s opponents had made 46 trips inside the Seminoles’ 20-yard line and come away with 30 touchdowns. This season, opponents have only entered the red zone 20 times and come away with seven touchdowns – a 23 touchdown improvement by the defense.
Continuing those ways against NC State’s prolific offense – at raucous Carter-Finley Stadium – will provide another challenge for Stoops’ unit, which also leads the nation in sacks.
“It will be loud. It will be tough,” Fisher said. “It’s a good environment, sitting down in that pit. We played up there a couple years ago and these guys were all there. We’ve just got to go up there and execute. They’ll be ready to play. This is a big game for them; a big game for everybody. It’s a conference game and they’re building it up.”