Jan. 29, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
MOBILE, Ala. - Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder came to the Under Armour Senior Bowl determined to show the NFL that he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Saturday he capped a week-long audition with an MVP performance, directing the South to a 24-10 victory over the North at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Ponder, who earned the starting nod for the South squad directed by Chan Gailey and the Buffalo Bills' staff, completed 7-of-13 pass attempts for 132 yards. His two touchdown passes were the only scoring tosses of the day.
"It was a good week," Ponder said. "I'm very proud. I got better and better each day, which was important. The biggest thing for me was to go out and prove that I was healthy and could still play. I threw the ball well and accomplished what I set out to do."
With FSU consensus All-American guard Rodney Hudson also in the starting lineup, Ponder didn't waste any time leaving a strong impressions in front of a sellout crowd, leading the South to scores on the first two possessions. He opened the game by connecting with Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson on a 49-yard pass, ran two times for 11 yards - converting a pair of third downs - and set up Josh Jasper's 23-yard field goal. The 10-play, 73-yard march took 5:09 off the clock set the tone for the game.
Ponder was even better on the second series, which began auspiciously with a holding penalty that wiped out a completion. He got the South moving by completing 4 of 6 attempts for 46 yards, capped by an 18-yard scoring strike to Hankerson on a deep out route for a 10-0 lead with 2:14 to remain in the first quarter. The 11-play, 70-yard march that took 6:17 off the clock was Ponder at his vintage best efficiency.
While fellow South quarterbacks Greg McElroy and Andy Dalton split most of the second and third quarters, Ponder would get the lion's share of the reps on the day.
"The ironic thing was I ended up being the only healthy quarterback on the team," said Ponder. "The other two guys got hurt."
Dalton's back stiffened and McElroy's hand went numb after taking hits.
"I had to stay in the game the whole fourth quarter," Ponder said. "It worked out well."
The South was clinging to a 17-10 lead when Ponder took over at his own 32-yard line with 4:47 to play in the game. Once again he proved up to the challenge, completing a 14-yard pass to Hankerson for a first down to jump-start what would be the game-clinching possession. Aided by a few solid runs from backs Bilal Powell and Anthony Allen, the South kept the chains moving.
Facing third-and-five from the North 23, Ponder delivered the dagger - a 23-yard strike on a slant route to Jeremy Kerley for a touchdown and a 24-10 lead with 3:04 to play. The six-play, 68-yard drive in just under two minutes sealed the outcome and the MVP award.
Ponder was especially proud of the three long scoring drives over the five possessions he directed.
"I think, especially against good competition - in a system I had to learn in a week - that's what a good quarterback is supposed to do," said Ponder. "To do that it on three [long] drives was great."
Hudson also had a hand in a strong performance by the South, which out-gained the North 317-238 yards, including 127 rushing yards. Splitting time between left and right guard, the Mobile native was part of a line that surrendered just two sacks while facing a defense that featured two of the nation's top senior pass rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Jeremy Beal.
"It turned out pretty good," Hudson said after the game. "I did some good things; made a couple of mistakes, but that's part of learning."
Like Ponder, Hudson felt like the entire week was a positive experience.
"I feel like I made a good impression," said Hudson, who will return to IMG in Bradenton and continue to prepare for the NFL Combine next month. "I learned a lot from the NFL coaches ... and the scheme of things and how they do things."
Hudson, who was selected by the FSU coaching staff as the Offensive MVP of the Seminoles, wasn't a bit surprised by the MVP performance turned in by Ponder Saturday.
"[Ponder] did good," he said. "That's what I told people after the game. I knew what he could do. He just wasn't 100 percent healthy all season."
Ponder is the fourth former Seminole to win the Senior Bowl MVP award, joining linebacker Derrick Brooks (1995), defensive end Willie Jones (1979) and quarterback Kim Hammond (1968). He is also the first ACC quarterback to claim the honor since NC State's Philip Rivers in 2004.
Both Hudson and Ponder will participate in the NFL Combine, which runs Feb. 23-March 1 in Indianapolis, and are expected to take part in FSU's Pro Day in late March. The NFL Draft is April 28-30.