Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who has turned the ball over seven times (five interceptions, two lost fumbles) in the past two games against the Lions and Broncos, said he had similar problems in his first year of starting at Florida State, but made big strides the year after.
"My first year starting, I definitely had some tough games," Ponder said. "But there was a lot of progress from my first year to my second year starting. After the season, my sophomore year when I first started, I went back and watched all that film and really got better because of it."
How has his performance in the past couple of games affected him mentally?
"It's tough to sleep after a game like that," Ponder said. "And to have two games like that with the turnovers, it's not a comforting feeling. It's tough. I'm always my biggest critic, and I'm probably too hard on myself sometimes. It's hard to be happy with yourself after a game like that."
Was Ponder upset when coach Leslie Frazier replaced him with Joe Webb in the third quarter of the Lions game Sunday?
"Yeah, it was more physical," said Ponder, who missed most of the week's practices leading up to the Lions game because of a hip pointer. "Coach Frazier came up to me and said it looked like I was having a hard time moving around, and that Joe, obviously, is healthy and will be able to move around a little more. He had a great week of practice and prepared really well, and we saw the results. I mean, he went out and played well."
Did the lack of practice cause his four turnovers in the Lions game?
"Obviously you want as much practice as you can get," Ponder said. "So it was tough not getting physical reps. But the good thing was I watched a lot of film and got all mental reps during practice. I prepared as much as I could have."
Ponder said his poor performance in the past two games hasn't hurt his confidence.
"I need to learn from them," he said. "I need to keep learning and probably be more conservative with the ball, not trying to force things that aren't there. But no, I'm still confident in my abilities and I know that in the long run, I'll be better because of these mistakes."
Ponder said he was happy to hear Frazier say he was still the No. 1 quarterback, despite Webb's great performance against the Lions.
"That's comforting," Ponder said, "and it's great to have the support of Coach Frazier and Coach [Bill] Musgrave and knowing that they have my back. Obviously there's still pressure on me to perform, but it does help things."
Ponder said he plans to spend much of the offseason at Winter Park and work to improve his game.
"It [the offseason] will help me a lot," Ponder said. "Having a full offseason knowing the offense and knowing the guys around me. I'm a guy that puts a lot of time in during the offseason to get better. And I know that I'll have a lot of time for that opportunity, and it'll be great for me."
On Sunday, the Vikings will face one of the great quarterbacks in the game in the Saints' Drew Brees.
"I've watched him growing up," Ponder said. "He's a heck of a player, and he's playing very well right now. He's a guy that is very smart with the football and very accurate."
U record impressive
The Gophers men's basketball team, 11-1 after beating Central Michigan 76-56 on Tuesday, were one of only three Division I teams with at least 10 victories against other D-I schools after last weekend. The other two are Syracuse, which is the new No. 1 in the Associated Press poll after Kentucky's loss to Indiana, and Illinois, which is ranked 19th.
The Gophers not only aren't ranked, but they didn't get a single vote in either major poll released Monday. Certainly, the Gophers have not played a great schedule -- their strength of schedule was ranked 72nd in the nation, according to cbssports.com -- but top-10 teams Louisville and Xavier have played schedules rated much worse. Murray State is 10-0 and appeared in the Associated Press poll at No. 24, but three of the Racers' victories are against non- Division I schools.
Last week, Gophers coach Tubby Smith and assistant Ron Jirsa watched signed recruit Wally Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis., score 14 points in an 72-40 victory over Amery. He is a 6-5 senior wing. ... Charles Buggs, another Gophers signed recruit who is a 6-8 power forward attending Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., recently was on the school's President's Commendation list for having a grade-point average of 3.3 or higher.
Former Gophers guard Blake Hoffarber started the season with the Fos Ouest Provence team in France and averaged about 10 points per game, but recently was released when one of the team's injured American players came back. The team is limited to three Americans.
• As of Wednesday, the Vikings had 1,500 tickets to sell to prevent a blackout of Sunday's Saints game. Don't be concerned, Ch. 9 and the Vikings will find a way to have the game televised. The Bears game Jan. 1 might be a different story, with more than 6,500 tickets left to sell for a game played on a holiday.
• Lester Oliveros, who the Twins received from the Tigers in the Delmon Young trade, is pitching for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League and has a 1.13 ERA through 16 innings with 17 strikeouts and eight walks. ... Deolis Guerra, the Twins' last remaining prospect received from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade, is also in the Venezuelan League pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes. He has a 2-0 record with a 2.45 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings pitched.
• Kevin Slowey, the former Twins righthander dealt to the Rockies at baseball's winter meetings, got a $50,000 raise for 2012 despite going 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 14 major-league games (eight starts) in 2011. He agreed to a $2.75 million contract with Colorado on Monday night.
• Former Gophers standout Paul Martin is the only Penguins defenseman of the 11 they have played who has appeared in every game this NHL season. The 30-year-old scored his first goal of the season Saturday to go along with nine assists this season. Virginia native Matt Niskanen is also part of the Pittsburgh blue line; he has a goal and eight assists and has missed only one game.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org