TALLAHASSEE — For Florida State QB Christian Ponder and the offense, the most important pass play of the season might have come early in the second half of Saturday's shutout win against Wake Forest.
Facing third and 14 from his 48-yard line, Ponder perfectly fired a long pass to WR Taiwan Easterling down the sideline for a 28-yard gain. The play kept alive a drive that culminated in a touchdown on Ponder's 6-yard run to give the Seminoles a 17-0 lead.
"You couldn't throw it any better," coach Jimbo Fisher said.
To a coach's eye, it's the kind of throw he knows Ponder can make but hadn't with the regularity many expected this season. The Seminoles are averaging 237.8 passing yards a game, down about 34 yards from last year.
That's due, in part, to the Seminoles running better; they're averaging 196.8 yards on the ground, an increase of about 47 a game. But the passing numbers also underline the inexperience of the receivers and Ponder's comfort staying in the pocket waiting for them to get open downfield.
Can one play change that?
"It gave me some confidence," Ponder said. "I started relaxing a little bit after that. Whenever you make a throw like that and (have) a catch like that, it definitely builds up confidence, and I think I needed that a little bit."
And that could be critical. The Seminoles must continue to hone their passing attack if they are to develop an offense that can carry them to their first ACC title since 2005 and a Bowl Championship Series berth.
"I was a little frustrated after the game on Saturday," Ponder said. "Obviously we should have done better than we did. You look back at the stats and you see 485 yards of offense, put up 31 points, and we're not nearly where we should be. At all. We've still got a lot of room for improvement.
"But for us to be where we're at, it's a good sign, and it's exciting that we can still do so much more. We have to take the right steps to progress."
Road warriors, he hopes: Fisher said his young team didn't handle the environment at Oklahoma, its first road game, very well. But he's not changing the routine and hopes his players learn from the experience.
"I tell them, 'Don't listen to the crowd. Think about the game and play the game and control what you can control,' " he said. "Hopefully we've learned those lessons from our last trip and we'll be able to deal with that a lot better this time."
Shutout reward: As he has for years, FSU director of baseball operations Chip Baker presented the defensive coaches with a baseball that has a nail driven in it to signify last weekend's shutout. FSU hadn't blanked an opponent since the 2008 opener against Western Carolina.
"I remember Mickey (Andrews, former defensive coordinator) had a whole roomful of those suckers in there," Fisher said. "We've got a ways to go to catch him. … It's one of the great traditions at Florida State."
Special performer: CB Mike Harris, a junior college transfer, continues to impress. In just 22 plays Saturday, he had five tackles and forced a fumble that S Terrance Parks recovered. FSU nominated him for ACC defensive back of the week.
Beyond the stats, however, is how he has handled the recent death of his mother, Gwendolyn Harris.
"He's a very good football player and a great kid, works his tail off, and you've got to realize what he's gone through," Fisher said. "Having missed (a couple days for the funeral in Miami) and coming back and being part of this team and being productive. Just the character and what he's doing, he's a tremendous, tremendous young man."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Check his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/seminoles.