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Cincinnati Bearcats Football Season in Review: Elijah Ponder

Ponder didn’t waste time, earning all-league honors in his first season as a full-time starter.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 29 UCLA at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Numbers

  • 33 tackles
  • 7.5 tackles for loss
  • 2.5 sacks
  • 9 quarterback hits/hurries

The 2019 season was Elijah Ponder’s first as a full-time starter for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The then junior defensive tackle made his way up the ranks in the previous two seasons and that patience paid off, as he went on to start in all 14 games, cementing his place on the depth chart from August to January.

Ponder’s promotion came with a difficult task, as he was one of the primary replacements for all-American Athletic Conference defensive tackles Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland. However, Ponder wasn’t fazed by their shadows. He was too busy making his own name while taking over a starting defensive tackle job, By the end of the season, he found himself on the all-league first team. He was one of seven Bearcats to earn the honor.

What did Ponder’s season look like from a statistical perspective? He produced 33 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss, which tied for fifth on the roster. Among his tackle total, he had 14 of the solo variety and 19 assists. He also had 2.5 sacks, which was far from dominant in terms of pass rushing, but its worth noting that he had a team-high nine quarterback hits/hurries. If a few more of those turned into sacks, Ponder might have been an even more effective defender. That’s pretty wild since he was already an all-league defensive tackle.

The Best of the Best

Sept. 14, 2019 vs. Miami-Ohio

Ponder’s efforts against the RedHawks began a stellar three-game stretch. He had three total tackles, including one for loss, but he was just getting started.

Sept. 28, 2019 at Marshall

You might be wondering why this game is on the list. After all, Ponder only had one total tackle. However, he was a menace in the backfield anyway, accumulating four quarterback hits/hurries. That kind of pressure is tough to deal with even if it never turns into sacks.

Oct. 4, 2019 vs. UCF

Of course, sacks are great and stand out a bit more on a box score. Ponder was on another level against the Knights, with two sacks and six total tackles.

Oct. 19, 2019 vs. Tulsa

This was another strong game for Ponder, who compiled four total tackles, including a half sack. He once again created additional pressure, contributing a pair of quarterback hits/hurries.

Nov. 28, 2019 at Memphis

This was nearly a carbon copy of the Miami-Ohio game for Ponder. He finished with three tackles, including one for loss.

For Next Year

It’s pretty clear what Ponder has to do next season. He already proved that he is consistent enough to start for an entire season and to do so at an all-conference level. For him to take another step forward, he has to trade in some of those quarterback hits/hurries for sacks. In addition, while it is understandable that he would have more assisted tackles than solo tackles due to the congestion he usually faces on the front lines, if he finishes a few more tackles on his own, he’ll be a lock to repeat as an all-league selection.