The play was all but over. For that matter, so was the game.
Florida State had a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and Christian Ponder had already picked up a first down after scrambling out of the pocket. There was nothing left to do but exercise a quarterback’s prerogative and slide out of harm’s way.
Except Ponder kept running. Past linebackers and into the secondary. Past coach Jimbo Fisher and into danger.
“He yelled at me to get down,” Ponder said later.
Instead, the quarterback gained 18 mostly meaningless yards before colliding with BYU cornerback Corby Eason.
“Guys are always asking him why he doesn’t slide,” said guard Rodney Hudson. “He’s just stubborn.”
Eason hit Ponder low, just above the knees, and sent him flying head over heels into the air.
“Yeah, I landed right on my head,” Ponder said. “It was a little embarrassing.”
In the end, the play meant little. But in a way, it said a lot.
For most people around the FSU football program, this season is about new beginnings. A new head coach with new philosophies. Eight underclassmen starting on offense and seven more on defense. This season is about establishing a tone for the future.
But for Christian Ponder, 22, there is no future at Florida State. He is a fifth-year senior with nine, maybe 10 or 11, games remaining as a college quarterback. He has the present, and he has his legacy. And in some ways, they are one and the same.
Little has gone the way Ponder expected during his time in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have never won a conference title. They have never beaten Florida. They have never played a bowl game of any real consequence.
If Ponder is to leave a mark at Florida State, it will have to be done in the next three months. In an Atlantic Coast Conference schedule that begins next weekend against Wake Forest.
Which may explain why Ponder was so willing to throw his body recklessly around the field on Saturday. And why he has not expressed undue concern about the NFL scouts who seem to think he has a future in their league. Nor has he fretted about the Heisman Trophy campaign that FSU endorsed but that already seems to have crashed and burned.
I suppose that’s what happens when you go 11-of-28 for 113 yards and two interceptions while getting blown out by Oklahoma. And that’s what happens when your team rushes for 278 yards and you pass for only 149 in a 34-10 victory against Brigham Young.
“As a kid, you kind of dream about the whole Heisman thing. I never really thought it would happen for me, so I was just trying to have fun with it,” said Ponder, who has earned a bachelor’s degree in finance.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. I know I have to play better. But I’m not really worried about that. I’m worried about winning games, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Of course, that’s been the problem at FSU. For all the talk of Ponder’s maturity, his mobility, his arm, there have not been enough wins at Doak Campbell Stadium. Ponder is 15-10 (.600) as a starting quarterback, which is the lowest winning percentage of any quarterback at FSU in the past 30 seasons with a minimum of 10 victories.
That’s not entirely his fault. After all, there has been a noticeable dip in talent in Tallahassee in recent seasons. And there has been turmoil outside the head coach’s office. Still, wins and losses are the way quarterbacks are judged, and Ponder recognizes this.
Perhaps that is why there seemed to be a little more fire in Ponder’s game on Saturday. After the humiliation at Oklahoma, there seemed to be a little more urgency in his approach. A little more emotion.
“The first two weeks (of this season) … I didn’t compete as well as I wanted to,” Ponder said. “This week I was (focused) on competing. I got caught up in the game, in the emotions of the game. Hopefully I can keep it going into the next week.”
Yes, a new era is beginning at Florida State, but there is still an old quarterback with something to prove.
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