Ponder's 4 TDs lead No. 20 Florida State to 59-6 win over Samford in Fisher's coaching debut

For the first time in 34 years, a Florida State football season started without Bobby Bowden on the sideline. It's Jimbo Fisher's team now, though against Samford it hardly mattered who was coaching the Seminoles.

Fisher began his career as Florida State coach with the easiest of victories as Christian Ponder threw four touchdown passes and the 20th-ranked Seminoles celebrated the start of a new era with a 59-6 victory Saturday against Bowden's alma mater.

Florida State scored 35 points during an 11-minute span of the second quarter, including Greg Reid's 74-yard punt return touchdown, to build a 42-0 lead on a sweltering day in north Florida.

Ponder, playing for the first time since a season-ending shoulder injury last November at Clemson, completed 12 of 14 passes for 167 yards before giving way to backup EJ Manuel at halftime.

"It was a relief just to get back out there and play," Ponder said. "There was a little doubt going in about the shoulder. All that went away after the first play."

In his first game, Fisher achieved something even Bowden failed to accomplish at FSU. Bowden won 316 games as Florida State coach, but he didn't win his first one. Fisher did.

Among all those wins were a pair of national titles and a dozen Atlantic Coast Conference championships, but the victories were falling off in recent years leading to Fisher's ascension as Bowden's successor a year sooner than the old coach wanted.

Fisher, who was Bowden's offensive coordinator for the last three years, said he thought about his predecessor a good deal on Saturday.

"I'm happy I'm here and all that but I mean that man built this university and he's a tremendous guy," Fisher said. "People don't understand what the man meant to me ... and how I looked up to him. He's still my hero."

Bowden said Florida State wanted to honor him before this opener between his two old schools, but the retired coach has tried to avoid the Seminoles and let Fisher establish himself. Bowden choose not to attend and instead watched it on television.

But Fisher — who like Bowden played and coached at Samford — had his players ready. Florida State was so dominant it didn't have to punt once.

The Seminoles rolled up 481 yards in their highest-scoring effort since opening the 2008 season with a 69-0 rout of Western Carolina. Seven players scored touchdowns for the Seminoles, who visit No. 7 Oklahoma next Saturday.

Reid, who led the nation in punt returns last season as a freshman, bounced off one would-be Samford tackler before he zigzagged into the clear on the way to his second career punt return TD. Samford had earlier kicked away from the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Reid.

"I'm thinking touchdown every time, once I get the ball in my hands," Reid said.

And that was exactly what coach Pat Sullivan feared coming into the game.

"We weren't going to kick to him," he said. "We were just going to be stubborn about it. We only kicked to him one time and he returned it for a touchdown."

Florida State also got a big play in the third quarter from reserve tailback Ty Jones, who ran 57 yards for a score. Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson also had short touchdown runs.

Jones ran for 107 yards on eight carries and Manuel completed 10 of 13 passes for 129 yards.

Samford, which was hurt by a blocked punt and interception during Florida State's second quarter uprising, got two field goals from Cameron Yaw.

"We weren't going to beat them unless we played perfect and they helped us some," Sullivan said. "We didn't match up. They were getting into a buzz saw with Florida State."

The Seminoles' first drive ended when Samford linebacker Bryce Smith picked off a tipped pass on the Samford 11, but Florida State scored the next six times it had the ball.

"That interception didn't bother him," said Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1971 as Auburn's quarterback. "He just came back and went right down the field."

Ponder hit Lonnie Pryor on scoring passes of 4 and 8 yards, had another to Bert Reed for 15 yards and one to Taiwan Easterling on an 11-yard throw.

Samford couldn't get into the end zone despite totaling 300 yards on offense, holding the ball for 37:14 and finishing with 19 first downs.

Samford's career rushing leader, Chris Evans, was held in check with 39 yards on a dozen carries.