I just re-watched the Thursday night game between Florida State and UNC from last year to get another look at Christian Ponder. I only focused on FSU and their offense because I don’t like to try to pay attention to more than a couple of players at a time, mostly because I will miss smaller details about a player (such as their drop back, their mechanics, their release from the line of scrimmage, etc) if I am trying to look at too many things at once. Obviously I focused my attention on Christian Ponder, who is my #2 QB for next years class. I am very high on him, and I think once you all get a chance to see him play this year you will be too. Last year at this time I didn’t think of him as much more than a back-up. In his sophomore season he passed for 2,006 yards on 318 attempts (only 6.31 yards per attempt), completed 55.7% of his passes, and threw 14 TD’s and 13 INT’s. In other words, he was relatively unimpressive. That changed last year, when he matched the 14 TD’s he had amassed the previous year despite only playing in 9 of the team’s 13 games, while his INT total dropped to 7, and his completion percentage jumped 13 points to 68.8% (an extremely impressive number, especially since he doesn’t operate out of a spread offense). In other words, the lightbulb finally came on. This was no more obvious than in this game against my beloved Tar Heels. Here is my analysis of Ponder’s performance and some notes on a couple of his receivers from this game:

Ponder looked very good in this game. He was extremely efficient, put up a career high of almost 400 yards passing, picked up a few first downs with his legs and led a huge comeback in the 2nd half starting with 11 minutes in the 3rd quarter that erased a 24-6 deficit and ended in a 30-27 win. Ponder threw 3 touchdowns in the second half and almost 300 yards, but all game he looked good. He did not force throws downfield against a very turnover happy defense, he used his eyes to bait the safeties away from where he wanted to deliver the ball routinely, he looked good throwing on the run and kept his hips square, though his passes weren’t quite as accurate as when he was in the pocket.

He picked the UNC defenses zones apart by finding his receivers in holes in the defense and timing up the slant routes FSU likes to run and hitting his receivers on time and accurately between where the corner was trailing and where the linebacker was supposed to pick him up. He also attacked down the seams, the sidelines and took advantage of the defenses weak-spots very nicely. There are holes in every zone, and Ponder was smart enough and well coached enough to find them, and on top of that when it came time to exploit them he had the arm strength and accuracy to do so.

(October 16, 2008 - Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

He looks to have good footwork, good mechanics and a quick release. He doesn’t have ideal height, but he has better athleticism than you might expect from looking at him. He also has a good feel for pressure in the pocket, and did a nice job of stepping up to buy time in the pocket in this game. He also scrambled when the protection collapsed and managed to buy time when he had to. The announcers said Ponder is given 3 plays from the sideline and he checks them into the correct one, and if that is indeed true then that speaks volumes about his intelligence, his football IQ, and his ability to read a defense. He looks good reading defenses, even ones that have as much pro talent on them as UNC’s does, and they were running defensive schemes that professional teams run.

He had a few bad plays, like when he got sacked and fumbled when the pressure got there within 3 seconds, and a couple throws that were off target, but one was when he was scrambling and was unable to set his feet. The other his throwing motion was strangely long and not as quick, and I think that had to do with it’s inaccuracy. But he did not force the ball into coverage more than a couple of times and he threw the ball 40 times. That is impressive. He did do a lot of checking down and threw a lot of bubble screens in this game, which inflates his completion % (which was a jaw-dropping 82.5%) but seeing your short passes end up completions, like a good shooter in basketball, builds your confidence and allows you to take more shots later. Ponder’s confidence was probably not high after a slow start when he was getting constantly pressured, forced to check down and then got hit and fumbled. However, the offense began to rely on quick throws, bubble screens, check downs, and slants to get the ball out of Ponder’s hands which allowed him to get into a rhythm. That led to more challenging throws being completed because Ponder was confident and in rhythm, and that led to the furious comeback in the second half. Not to mention his completion percentage could have been even better seeing as 3 of his 7 incompletions came from dropped passes, 2 by his WR Jarmon Forston.

Overall I was incredibly impressed by Ponder in this game, and I remember thinking that as I watched it the first time after he crushed me as a big Tar Heel fan as he led that comeback in the second half against our perhaps overhyped defense. He spread the ball around, did not force passes against our defense, he knew where to attack us and just kept making good throws and avoiding mistakes, and when he took his shots downfield he connected more times than not. I would like to see him throw less bubble screens and check-down passes, but I really think that they were the key to FSU winning this game. They allowed Ponder to get the ball out of his hands, keep the UNC defensive line off of him, and most importantly they boosted his confidence. Eventually that led to a big win.

I also took note of a couple other players on FSU. Jarmon Forston had a decent game with almost 60 yards on three catches, but he had two drops. One of them was on a slant that led him into traffic, and he looked like he was afraid of the contact and showed a case of “alligator arms” which means the receiver sticks his arms out looking for contact and is no longer very concerned with the ball. It might hit his arms, but the likelihood that he will catch it is much less than if he was not afraid of the contact. He also dropped a pass when he came back to Ponder when he was scrambling and looked to turn upfield and took his eyes off the ball before he had secured it. He had room to run, but he needed to concentrate on the ball, catch it and then turn upfield.

He caught a couple of passes earlier and showed this concentration, but this lapse did stick out to me. But I was more concerned with his alligator arms, and when I watch him in the future I will be looking for this. Having a receiver who is good on curl routes, screens, slants and other routes is good, but if he can’t go over the middle and make a catch even if he knows contact is coming, that really hurts his value and his ability to make an impact on your football team. I have not kept careful track of this before, but I am definitely on the lookout for it his year. It’s lucky that Forston exhibited this in the first game I chose to watch.

I also saw two of Ponder’s other receivers, Bert Reed and Rod Owens, have very impressive games. Reed had a number of nice catches, including a diving one over the middle on a relatively low throw and one over the middle that involved getting hit after he went up to get the ball since it was a little high. He impressed me and I didn’t see him drop a single ball, and he is not afraid to get hit if he goes over the middle. He had 8 catches and 74 yards in this game, and they were important catches. Owens also had an impressive game with 9 catches for 199 yards, including a 98 yard touchdown.

Rod Owens burns Curtis Brown on a Double move for a 98 yard TD

But even taking that out he still would have had a great game with 8 catches and 101 yards. He was productive and reliable, and I didn’t see him drop any passes either. I was impressed with both Bert Reed and Rod Owens, and I am excited to see them play again this season.

So there you have it, my first analysis of film that I have watched yet on this blog. I apologize for the delay between this post and my last one, I left for a vacation on Wednesday the 16th at 7 am (meaning I had to get up at 4, so I just never went to sleep that night) and passed out at 6 pm once I got to our hotel room. But before that I had to pack and get ready to leave, so I didn’t have much time to watch this game, take notes on it or post my findings on my blog. I am still working on my watch list, but it will still be some time before I finish it. Hopefully this, and other findings I have from games I am able to watch, hold you over until I have more time to work on some position rankings.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed the content and also the pictures that I have recently figured out how to add!

–Tom Melton