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FSU's Ponder Returns-Throws Ball Well As Noles Prep For Wolfpack

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher walked off the practice field Saturday pretty happy about his team's effort after a two-hour session.

"Daws, don't you think that was one of the best practices we've had in a while," Fisher said to passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey.

After taking Friday off, the Seminoles returned to the practice field Saturday and spent the session continuing to prep for next Thursday's pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division showdown at NC State.

"It was a very good practice today," Fisher told members of the media after practice. "The tempo was up. Attitude was up. Execution was up. I was very pleased today. I liked the whole demeanor of everything we did today."

The Seminoles donned shorts and helmets. FSU practiced in full pads on Wednesday and Thursday. Three more practice days are left before the team departs for Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday afternoon.

"Our kids are doing a good of job preparing," said Fisher. "They knew today was Monday. Today wasn't Saturday.  Today was Monday. That's what we preached to them. They came out there and got their work done.  It was an extended Monday. We did more than we normally do on a Monday, because we're farther advanced and got more stuff in. I was very pleased at how they bounced around getting ready to play."

The bright spot of Saturday's practice was the return of senior quarterback Christian Ponder to throwing drills. Ponder, who sat out much of practice this week while recovering from a swollen right arm, participated in several drills Saturday.

"He threw the ball well," Fisher said. "He did 7-on-7. He did red zone 7-on7. He did forced drill and team.  I cut some back, because we have so many. He did inside drill. I was shocked at what he did throw. They [athletic training staff] expected him to go some today and then tomorrow be harder. But, he went out there and threw all kind of balls. He threw it down the field. He threw it deep. Tomorrow will be a normal day for him."

Thursday night Games

Fisher was asked Saturday to recall some of the Thursday night games that have stood out in his career. Besides the ones he's been involved with at Florida State, Fisher mentioned the 1997 season opener while he was at Auburn - a Thursday night affair featuring Auburn and Virginia and current Seminole quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig.

"We opened up at Virginia one year. That's when they had Aaron Brooks, [Germane] Crowell, [Anthony] Poindexter, [Patrick] Kerney, Thomas Jones. They had a whole crew up there. We went up there and Dameyune led us to a victory in Charlottesville on a Thursday night. It was a big time game."

Fisher also mentioned the last meeting at NC State in 2008 also on a Thursday night.

"That was a real good win for us. We had to battle back and finally won 26-17. We had to kick a field goal late to kind of secure it. They were ahead early in the game. If I remember right, we had about eight holding calls in the first half. Every time we did anything, we went backwards. That was the first time that year, we played outside the state of Florida."

Florida State's last two Thursday night games have resulted in wins for the `Noles. Besides the win in 2008 at NC State, FSU adds a 30-27 win at North Carolina last year to that slate.

"We've won the last two. But it's a ball game. They're going to line up and play on a 100-yard field. The lights will be on. It'll be 60 minutes and we'll line up and play. It's going to be a challenge. It's going to be tough. They're a good team. It's a good environment. We'll be ready to play."

After the jump: FSU's defense evolving; girding for showdown with NC State's offense

FSU's defense evolving; girding for showdown with NC State's offense

Florida State's pass rush and improved coverage in the secondary have been instrumental to the tremendous defensive strides the Seminoles have made in 2010.

One season removed from finishing at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference in virtually every statistical category, the 16th-ranked Seminoles boast the league's top-rated scoring defense and No. 2 total defense.

That should only serve to heighten next Thursday's Atlantic Division showdown with NC State at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack, led by quarterback Russell Wilson and a veteran receiving corps, lead the ACC in scoring offense and total offense.

Wilson, the ACC's top-rated passer, has the tools to test an FSU defense which is allowing only 16.1 points and 308.1 yards per game.

"He's got a lot of physical ability and he plays with a lot of poise," Fisher said of Wilson. "He's as good as anybody we've faced. ... He's a heck of a player; he's dynamic. He'll put a load on his back. Last year he and Christian [Ponder] had a heckuva shootout here, 45-42., with both of them going up and down the field."

Wilson won the statistical battle in that game with five touchdown passes and 349 yards through the air, connecting three times with wideout Jarvis Williams for touchdowns and one each to Owen Spencer and tight end George Bryan. That receiving trio returns for the `Pack, having already amassed 81 receptions for nearly 1,110 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Yet instead of facing a porous unit, they will have to contend with a defensive group which has allowed only seven touchdown passes. FSU's efficiency against the pass has been aided by a pass rush that leads the nation in sacks (30) and a secondary that has already broken up 34 passes and intercepted six others. Both the sack and pass break-up totals by the `Noles have exceeded the season total from a year ago.

"Our rush has a lot to do with that ball having to come out quick," Fisher said. "There's two things that are going on. When you rush the passer it helps the secondary, because they know the ball has got to come out in a certain amount of time Two is, when you cover well, which we've done ... a lot of our sacks have came because we've covered guys on the back end and made them hold the ball at times. They're feeding off each other and doing a very good job of that."

Sophomore defensive end Brandon Jenkins leads the rush unit with seven sacks, but is just one of 13 Seminoles who have found a way to get the opposing quarterback on the ground this season. Of course, getting the big-armed, but elusive, Russell on the ground is no easy feat.

"Mobile quarterbacks are the most dangerous," said Jenkins. "He [Wilson] can run the football and throw the football. It will be important to stay in our rushing lanes.

"It's like playing a Michael Vick, basically. He's very dangerous. That's why we have to focus on the basic stuff: the technique, wrapping up, the rushing lanes. ... The biggest thing is keeping him in the pocket."

The Seminoles have spent the past three days working on those fundamentals in preparation for a showdown which could well decide the Atlantic Division representative in the ACC Championship game.

Confidence is certainly on the Seminoles' side, especially in the secondary, which recorded 10 pass break-ups in Saturday's 24-19 victory over Boston College. Junior safety Terrance Parks sees the secondary segment improving each week.

"From week to week, things are slowing down, and with this defense it allows us to use our eyes," said Parks, who had a career-high three break-ups against the Eagles. "With that, everything is becoming more clear. We recognize certain routes, we recognize certain route combinations within the defense and we're able to get our hands on the ball. ...

"When something goes good for you, your confidence shoots up. ... Our confidence for our whole team has come up, but at the same time we know we have another game to play and we have to continue to work hard."

Courtesy of FSU SID