COLUMBIA — It doesn’t matter that the IU Sports Report isn’t affiliated with Indiana University or the Hoosiers’ football team.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
When the IU Sports Report’s Twitter account put Missouri senior cornerback Randy Ponder in its crosshairs, saying he was in for a long night against “the best receiving corp (sic) in the nation,” the Tigers took notice.
“As a player, you like when people are talking trash,” Ponder said. “I try to use it to my benefit and go out there to play with a little bit more passion.”
Missouri’s secondary realizes that it’s facing its toughest test of the young season at 7 p.m. Saturday against the pass-happy Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.
Indiana ranks sixth in the nation in scoring at 50 points per game and averages 339 passing yards, ranking 11th in the nation, under third-year coach and former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
Far from backing down, Missouri is excited for the challenge.
“I’m geared up for it and the whole secondary is geared up for it,” sophomore safety Ian Simon said. “There’s been a little tweet that Indiana sent out about Randy and that’s got the guys all jacked up to fight them about it. We’re really excited about this week at practice and looking forward to it.”
Last season, Missouri managed only seven interceptions all season, an admittedly disappointing turnover output, but through two games this season, the Tigers already have picked off six passes.
“We had a bad taste last year, so everybody individually has taken it upon themselves to come out here and play better this year,” Ponder said. “We want to have a better season than last year.”
The early returns are encouraging.
“We’re not doing anything different than we did last year,” Missouri cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said. “Coaching points are all the same, but we’re doing a better job of getting our hands on passes. We had a lot of opportunities last year, but we just didn’t look it in and tuck it away.”
Missouri’s secondary is aware of how critical turnovers can be, so it knows how demoralizing the missed opportunities are as well.
“Each and every player is paying attention to detail and doing the small things as far as looking the ball into their hands and making plays,” Ponder said. “Our coaches preach takeaways, takeaways, takeaways and it’s trickled down to the players.”
Especially after that tweet-heard-round-the-locker-room, Missouri’s defensive backs are eager to make it a long night for Indiana sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld — or sophomore co-starter Tre Roberson or junior Cameron Coffman, a Raymore-Peculiar graduate.
“We thought it was funny,” Simon said. “A lot of guys have been laughing about it, but at the same time it kind of lit the fire a little bit.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.