It's still quite early, but it appears the ACC's top offense from a year ago is taking the next step to becoming a nationally elite attack. The 'Noles held their first scrimmage of the Fall this morning, and while it was closed to the public (and media), some news is trickling out.
The 'Noles offense is still very much run oriented, but it's stifled in the practice setting because the 'Noles run threat in quarterback Christian Ponder is negated by the green no-contact jersey (if the QB is touched, he is down). Anyone who saw Ponder run in a game knows that he is not easily arm tackled.
Throughout the Spring (10 yards per carry) and the early fall, the run game dominated. In today's scrimmage, the defense decided to stop the run. They brought their safeties down close to the line of scrimmage ("the box"), and dared the 'Nole offense to throw. The defense succeeded in slowing the run game, as Jermaine Thomas had only 36 yards on 8 carries.
You'll remember that Bert Reed told us about the responsibility the wide receivers to make big plays when teams over-commit to stopping the run. He was excited about the opportunities. And he should be. Teams will absolutely respect and key on the 'Nole's run game this year, where last year they did not. So today the defense gave the offense a preview of what other teams will likely run against FSU, and the offense responded. Big.
Christian Ponder was 15-20 for 287 yards and 4 TD's- NO Interceptions. The offense opened the scrimmage with three straight TD drives. Plays of 30+ yards were the norm. The pass protection appeared to be everything it was not last year, thanks to an average weight gain of 11lbs per man (and of course, another year in the system for what was the youngest offensive line in the game). Jarmon Fortson caught 3 balls for 108 yards. Fortson has really responded since Jimbo Fisher tore into him Tuesday morning, showing a more consistent focus, thinking about what he has to do each play- before the play, and looking the ball in.
Remember that the 1st team offense faced the 2nd team defense, and the 2nd team offense faced the 1st team defense. Keep it in perspective. It's still early.
For more on the scrimmage, see Andrew Carter's Bhopping Block Report and Steve Ellis' Democrat Report. The 1st team defense did a decent job against the 2nd team offense- including Jamie Robinson picking off ultra-talented but still raw quarterback EJ Manuel (remember he removed the periods from his name).
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Picking up where he left off following spring practice, junior quarterback Christian Ponder displayed poise in the pocket and accuracy through the air, highlighting the play in Florida State's first preseason scrimmage Saturday inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
While the Seminoles successfully balanced the run and the pass in the situational scrimmage, Ponder excelled, completing 15 of 20 attempts for 287 yards and four touchdowns. FSU quarterbacks Ponder, EJ Manuel, Will Secord and Ryan Becker spread the wealth, as 14 different players collected receptions, though no one player had more than three.
"I think the best thing about it was we came out with the right attitude," Ponder said of the scrimmage. "We're willing to work and compete, and I thought that was good. Obviously, we had some big plays. A lot of guys, when their number was called, came up with the big play which is something we need."
Best of all, the success of the passing game came in the face of an active pass rush.
"The defense put a little more pressure on (the quarterbacks) than they had in the past," said FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who liked what he saw from the passing game. "The pass rush was better."
FSU's defense made its share of plays as well. Free safety Jamie Robinson added another interception to his stout preseason performance. Robinson had a second interception erased by a defensive penalty.
"I did have some high expectations for myself (last season), wanting to make some big plays," said Robinson, who finished with four tackles. "It didn't really pan out like I thought last year, but it's really starting out pretty good this year."
Cornerback A.J. Alexander also collected an interception, but his touchdown return of the theft was wiped out by a defensive penalty. Defensive end Markus White had a 30-yard return after scooping up an errant pitch. Defensive end Toshmon Stevens had two sacks among his three tackles for loss, while linebacker Mister Alexander was in on two tackles for loss and also forced a fumble.
It was the kind of performance - with big plays on both sides - that flashed the teams' potential but also made them realize there is a lot of room to grown before the Sept. 7 opener against Miami.
"(We are) a young team that has ability, that will make plays at times and be very inconsistent at times," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. "We competed hard in the game. Even when bad things happened to us, we put it away and got on to the next play.
"I never saw guys dwelling on mistakes; never saw guys dwelling on big plays."
What Fisher did see was solid running from tailbacks Jermaine Thomas and Lonnie Pryor. Pryor, a freshman pressed into significant action due to injury, led the Seminoles with 51 yards on nine carries.
"I was proud of (Pryor)," Fisher said. "He's a tough 'ol nut. He'll stick his nose in there."
Thomas added 36 yards on eight carries.
Wide receiver Jarmon Fortson collected three receptions for 106 yards, while Rod Owens added three for 84, including a touchdown. Bowden singled out those two and tight end Caz Piurowski for standout performances.
"We could have done a little better," White said. "You can always get better. ... We just need to think better sometimes and play better mentally and from there, just keeping going up."
Freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins converted two field goals, including a long of 47 yards. ... James Esco was perfect on three PAT conversions, while Hopkins split the uprights on his two attempts. ... QB EJ Manuel overcame early-scrimmage jitters to lead the offense to a touchdown in a Red Zone series. Manuel completed both of his pass attempts, including an 11-yard scoring strike to freshman Josh Gehres. ... Freshman quarterback Will Secord connected with classmate Willie Haulstead on a 42-yard TD pass. ... The Seminoles closed out the morning scrimmage with four goal line plays. The defense managed two stops from the one, but both Thomas and Pryor scored on 3-yard runs. ... FSU planned to cap the day with a 90-minute, evening workout, focusing on the kicking game.
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