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December 22, 2010

Ponder or Manuel: USC Has To Stop Both

As it becomes increasingly apparent that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will play against No. 19 South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Gamecocks are treating the news with a case of the whatevers.

They're not dismissing the talents of Ponder or his backup, E.J. Manuel, but they figure they have to stop whoever is taking the snaps. As long as they do their jobs, who's actually back there won't be that big of a deal.

"It will be a little bit of a shakeup, but we feel since we saw Cam (Newton), we can handle whatever they'll throw at us," cornerback Brandan Davis said.

Ponder has been cleared to throw today, ESPN is reporting, while Florida State's medical staff will be closely watching. The quarterback, who has had a problem with fluid buildup in his throwing elbow, has been lifting weights and running and will stay in Tallahassee for Christmas, coach Jimbo Fisher saying Ponder's family will come to stay with him during the holidays.

The No. 23 Seminoles have already said that Ponder won't be fully practicing until Dec. 26 in Atlanta and Fisher expects his QB to be medically cleared. As ESPN reports, Ponder has been cleared to play before and did not, but in the last game of the year, it's expected for the Seminoles to play him if he can go.

Manuel may get some snaps as well, if the Seminoles decide to mix it up a bit as it fits the rest of their offense. FSU spreads the ball equally among its tailbacks and receivers and could decide to swap its quarterback in and out depending on the USC defense.

The book reads that Ponder is the passer, Manuel is the runner, but Manuel only has 124 yards with a touchdown on the ground (averaging 3.6 yards per carry). The Seminoles want him to stay in the pocket and find his receivers, which he is learning to do. Ponder has thrown for 2,038 yards and 20 touchdowns, completing 62.2 percent of his passes with only eight interceptions.

Whether it's Ponder or Manuel, USC knows the key to winning the Chick-fil-A bowl and notching another historical mark on the record book is stopping both of them. The Seminoles' defense will be a handful as well, but Ponder vs. the Gamecocks' passing defense is liable to be the biggest challenge.

"We'll just have to keep an eye on whoever's back there," Akeem Auguste said. "Manuel, he can run."

Florida State is averaging 31.8 points per game and has scored at least 30 in each of its past three games. There is no real superstar on the rushing or receiving end, the Seminoles boasting three tailbacks with at least 500 yards and three wide receivers with the same total.

Ponder has been the guy to make the Seminoles go, rising past a wave of inconsistent play to put up solid numbers until his elbow flared up. He played against Maryland and Florida, the middle two of the last four games, but sat out against Clemson and Virginia Tech, when Manuel took over.

"(Ponder)'s pretty good," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. "We haven't seen a lot of film on the other guy but we'll be ready for both."

The Gamecocks, as tackle Byron Jerideau said, are looking to reclaim their respect after a beating from Auburn during the SEC Championship Game. It's fitting that USC will get to play on the same turf in its first chance to redeem itself.

To do it, they must stop Florida State, no matter who is leading the charge.

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