The website CP7forHeisman.com, launched in July when the Heisman Trophy seemed a reasonable goal, is still being updated with Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder’s stats. In early October, NC State launched a promotional web site for quarterback Russell Wilson, RussellWilson16.com.
They’re two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, but in recent weeks, their play hasn’t backed up their hype. As Wilson and Ponder prepare to face each other tonight in a game that will determine the Atlantic Division front-runner, they do so looking to improve upon three interceptions each in their previous games. Wilson has thrown 18 touchdown passes this fall and nine interceptions. Ponder has thrown 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Whichever one makes the fewest mistakes tonight is likely to take the lead in the conference standings.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said interceptions can be deceiving because some of them can be attributed to aggressive play calling in the passing game, or a quarterback who’s talented enough and willing to take chances.
“Interceptions can be good and they can be bad,” Fisher said. “Because there is, at times if you're too cautious, you don't throw them, but you don't make plays either. Sometimes when you take opportunities and you're confident in your abilities, you're going to make a few throws in there that get tipped or guys make an interception on that. That's part of the game.
“We don't want interceptions,” he said. “You never want them, but you can't tell a guy to make all these plays but don't make a mistake. That's hard to do. When you're confident in your abilities and you have the abilities you have, sometimes you'll make one. But he also makes a lot of big plays with that too.”
Such is the case with both Ponder and Wilson, who are the difference-makers in their offenses. Wilson enters the Florida State game leading the ACC in passing yards with 303.4 per game and total offense with 332.0 per contest. Those marks rank fifth and fourth respectively in the FBS this week. He is averaging 55.3 more passing yards per game and 65.9 more yards of total offense than any other ACC quarterback.
Interceptions are uncharacteristic for Wilson. In the past three games, Wilson has thrown eight interceptions -- 38 percent of the interceptions thrown in his 31-game career. He’s thrown 66 career touchdown passes and only 21 picks.
“It’s going to happen sometimes,” Wilson said. “Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some. But I’m the type of guy who’s going to keep working, keep getting better every week, trying to find something I can get better at whether it’s balance or getting the ball out on time, whatever it is, I try to find it and get better every single week.”
Ponder is seventh in the ACC in passing yards per game (186.4), but the Seminoles have been dependent upon their running game, which is one of the best in the country. His biggest contributions have come at critical times -- on third downs and in the red zone.
Ponder said the only stats that matter are the team’s 6-1 record, but that the passing game must improve if the Noles are going to continue to win. Ponder had one of his worst performances of his career in the win over Boston College, with four turnovers.
“There is no excuse at all,” he said. “A lot of it goes back to things that I did. I coughed the ball up for three interceptions and a fumble -- It’s terrible. It’s ultimately my fault. It was just one of those days. But I’ve learned and studied film. I’m going to prepare myself so that doesn’t happen.”
Fisher doesn’t expect it to.
“The guy has played one bad half,” Fisher said. “He’s played great. He’s leading us in third down (conversions) and led us in red zone (conversions). The guy has bounced back his whole career and he had one bad half. He’ll play well and do well.”
So will Wilson.
One of them, though, will play better.