Sept. 4, 2010
By: Brandon Mellor, FSU Sports Information
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – How about that for the first game of the Jimbo Fisher era?
Following an offseason of hype, renewed expectations, and a plethora of changes throughout the program, Florida State officially unveiled its first new head football coach in over 30 years Saturday at home against Samford.
And even though Fisher – like most coaches — is a perfectionist and always in search of ways to improve, he has to be pleased with FSU’s 59-6 drubbing of the Bulldogs.
“Anytime you make plays it means something,” Fisher said in his first postgame news conference as the man in charge. “We are going to play one way only and that’s with effort and passion.”
In his first game back after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final four contests of the 2009 campaign, Heisman-hopeful quarterback Christian Ponder only had to play two quarters in the win.
It was in that opening half that the fifth-year star tossed four touchdown passes on 12-of-14 passing for 167 yards.
When the second half started, Ponder picked up the clipboard and gave way to backup EJ Manuel, who went 10-of-13 for 129 yards.
Jermaine Thomas started at running back and carried the ball eight times for 31 yards and a score. Backups Ty Jones and Chris Thompson also got their chance and didn’t disappoint. Jones ran for a game- and career-high 107 yards on eight carries with a score and Thompson registered 17 yards on three carries and a touchdown.
On the outside, starting wide receiver Taiwan Easterling grabbed four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Fellow starter Bert Reed also had a scoring nab and 50 yards on five catches. Thompson added 54 yards receiving on four catches out of the backfield.
Saturday wasn’t just a day in which the head coach and some assistants were new. In fact, the fans that donned the garnet and gold in Tallahassee had the chance to see a host of student-athletes participate for the first time as a Seminole. In total, 26 first-time ‘Noles saw action.
“From a game management standpoint I was pleased with how we handled things,” Fisher said. “We tried to get the freshmen in there. We were very organized.”
Ponder’s potential run towards a Heisman Trophy likely won’t happen without a few bumps and bruises. The first hiccup of the young season occurred on the Seminoles’ opening drive when Ponder’s pass was tipped and intercepted.
The redshirt senior quickly bounced back, though, and orchestrated a beautiful six-play, 47-yard scoring drive for FSU’s first points of the year.
On the scoring play, Ponder rolled out and hit starting fullback Lonnie Pryor on a well-placed four-yard pass.
Following yet another avoid-Greg Reid-at-all-costs type of punt in which the Bulldogs booted the fourth-down punt out of bounds to avoid FSU’s electric returner, the ‘Noles benefitted from some more great field position.
A short field was all Dr. Ponder needed to operate as he tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Reed to make it 14-0. The scoring mark put an end to a surprising streak; it was Reed’s first touchdown reception since the NC State game on Oct. 31, 2008.
The offensive players were so in sync that Thompson then used special teams to make an impact. The 5-foot-8 speedster earned his first-career punt block when he smacked Samford’s attempt in the Seminoles’ own redzone.
Safety Terrance Parks scooped up the loose ball and two plays later Thomas drove the offense into the endzone with a four-yard scamper, extending the home team’s lead to 21-0.
Samford finally elected to test Reid and, unsurprisingly, the sophomore star picked up right where he left last year when he led the nation in punt return yardage. Reid juked past a defender, squirted through two more and then used his impeccable field vision and speed to race across the goal line for a 74-yard score.
“The guy is amazing,” Fisher said. “He really is amazing.”
Now up 28-0, Reid’s buddy at cornerback, junior college transfer Mike Harris, snagged his first interception as a Seminole to set up the offense in its own redzone.
Ponder then hooked up with Pryor once more on an 8-yard pass to push the advantage to 35-0. Just over four minutes later, another successful FSU drive culminated with an 11-yard strike from Ponder to Easterling.
Samford got on the board before the close of the half with a field goal that made the score 42-3.
For FSU, the 42 points were the most registered in an opening two quarters in a game since 2000 against Duke.
The second half started much the same way that the first half ended. Thomas took his place on the bench and handed the keys to the running game off to backups Jones and Thompson.
Both ‘backs got in on the scoring action; Jones rumbled for a career-long 57 yards for a touchdown and Thompson later added a nine-yard scoring scamper. Both touchdown runs occurred in the third quarter and put the ‘Noles up 56-6.
Next up for Florida State is a much different ballgame than opening day. That’s because the “new era” will get its first real test; FSU travels to play at Oklahoma on Sept. 11.
Stay tuned to Seminoles.com for more coverage on this game and upcoming contest with the Sooners.