If the Florida State Seminoles are to win a critical game against Wake Forest next weekend, they'll have to do it with redshirt freshman EJ Manuel at quarterback and not Christian Ponder.
Ponder, one of the nation's top passers and a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award (nation's top player), separated his right (throwing) shoulder in the waning minutes of Saturday's 40-24 loss at Clemson. The redshirt junior will be re-examined today, including X-rays, to determine the course of his rehabilitation. But in a news release, the school declared him out for at least the noon game in Winston-Salem, N.C.
With the Seminoles (4-5, 2-4 ACC) needing to win two of their last three to be bowl eligible — don't forget, they end the regular season at No. 1 Florida — that puts Manuel on the spot heading into his first collegiate start.
Offensive coordinator "Jimbo (Fisher) will just have to take him and prepare him," coach Bobby Bowden said Sunday. "He'll have to feed him what he can handle. I'm sure he's not going to be able to feed him the whole package like he could Ponder, but he'll feed him as much as he feels like he can handle and go from there."
As the backup since the spring, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Manuel has been receiving about half the practice reps (with the second unit). He worked with the first team most of last week with Ponder nursing bruised ribs.
"I felt like watching him last week that he has really improved, and I think Coach Fisher felt the same way," Bowden said. "Now you get into a ballgame, that's different. That's a different type of improvement (needed) there. At least he got in three or four plays. That don't hurt."
Manuel played FSU's final series after Ponder injured his shoulder making a tackle on Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, who was returning an interception, Ponder's fourth of the game. Manuel was 0-for-2 passing and was sacked once.
He appeared briefly in two other games (BYU and USF), hitting 1 of 2 passes for 4 yards and running twice for 7 yards.
"No matter how much we've watched Manuel practice since he's been here, we'd see him go out there and have a good day; we'd seen him go out there and not have a good day. How's he going to play in a game? I don't know. You never know," Bowden said. "Some kids really come out in a situation like that. Some don't. How is he going to do? I don't know. But I'm anxious to see."
Expect freshman Ryan Becker (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) to be the second-string this week. FSU wants to redshirt freshman Will Secord.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.