Clemson University

Ponder has Tigers scrambling

Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder tosses the ball during the game  in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008 between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State beat Wisconsin 42-13.
Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder tosses the ball during the game in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008 between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State beat Wisconsin 42-13. AP

CLEMSON - For all of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder's football and academic accolades, Clemson linebacker Brandon Maye has given him a new nickname - "Jimmy Neutron," the boy genius cartoon character.

"(Ponder) throws the ball like an NFL quarterback and runs it like a college option quarterback of the '70s or '80s, which is a rare thing now," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said.

Perhaps Maye also saw the episode where Neutron ran so fast that friends thought he had turned invisible.

The Tigers have been prone to making opposing quarterbacks appear invincible when they run the ball, and Ponder will be the first in a string of mobile threats as Clemson enters the homestretch of the ACC race.

In four of Clemson's eight games this season, the opponent's leading rusher has been the quarterback, and it would have been five if not for the sacks against Maryland quarterback Chris Turner.

Foremost, that illustrates the Tigers' ability to take away a team's top running options. They have allowed just three rushing scores this season.

Yet Clemson is a modest 55th in the nation in rush defense as opponents have moved the chains by following their running quarterbacks.

Just how big of a vulnerability that is will be determined the next three weeks. Clemson closes conference play by facing three of the league's top four scramblers, excluding Georgia Tech option quarterback Josh Nesbitt - Ponder (304 yards, two TDs), N.C. State's Russell Wilson (397 yards, 3 TDs) and Virginia's Jameel Sewell (337 yards, five TDs).

The Tigers went back to the drawing board after the season's fourth game when TCU gashed them with a variation of the quarterback read-option. In that game, quarterback Andy Dalton gained 100 yards on 16 carries, and three of Clemson's next four opponents incorporated similar plays that were met with moderate success.

Two of Coastal Carolina's quarterbacks last week combined to gain 74 yards.

Maye said Clemson's troubles have mostly come while in a set with six defensive backs and just one linebacker.

"We've made it a problem with guys being in the wrong gap," Maye said.

Running will not be the focal point in slowing Ponder, a 6-foot-3, 217-pound redshirt junior who leads the ACC in passing yards and attempts.

Yet his scrambling ability has at least given the Tigers food for thought. During Clemson's 41-24 loss to FSU last season, Ponder's 21-yard run on second-and-13 set up the touchdown that put the Seminoles up by two scores early in the fourth quarter.

Ponder suffered bruised ribs early in last week's 45-42 win against N.C. State, during which all four of his runs, totaling 29 yards, produced first downs.

"With the bruised ribs he's going through, I don't think they're going to have him running too much this week," junior safety DeAndre McDaniel said.

"If they do, I'm pretty sure we're going to try to get some good licks on him."

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