COLUMBIA - Randy Ponder knows Indiana is coming for him.
Ponder, Missouri football’s No. 2 cornerback, can’t ignore the facts. Indiana likes to throw the football, averaging 339 yards per game through the air. The Hoosiers have plenty of players who can catch the ball. Three of its receivers have already caught three or more touchdowns in the first three games of the season.
Ponder also plays across from Missouri's top cornerback E.J. Gaines, who happens to be one of the best cornerbacks in the Southeastern Conference. So when a pass-heavy team is on the schedule, it’s no secret that Ponder will see his fair share of action.
“I accept the challenge,” Ponder said. “He’s (Gaines) already proven himself, and I’ve been waiting to prove myself. I’m ready for it.”
Indiana is ready for him, too. On Sunday, an Indiana fan page on Twitter called out Ponder, making it known that Hoosier fans consider him the weak link of the defensive secondary.
“Hey Randdddy,” the tweet from IU Sports Report read. “The best receiving corp in the nation is coming for u Saturday night at the rock #GonnaBeLongNight”
The fan page, which has over 2,600 followers, got quite the response. Before long, Ponder’s Twitter feed was flooded with messages from both Missouri and Indiana fans.
He couldn’t help but laugh.
“It’s just fuel to the fire,” Ponder said with a smile. “I didn’t really take it to heart. I know it comes with the territory of playing football.”
Ponder’s teammates in the secondary took it a bit more personally and have used it as bulletin-board material heading into Saturday night’s game in Bloomington.
“I’m geared up for it,” safety Ian Simon said. “The whole secondary is geared up for it. There was a little tweet Indiana sent out about Randy. That’s got the guys all jacked up and fired up for it. We’re really excited about this week of practice and looking forward to it. The amount of film has increased. Everybody's intensity has increased."
Saturday's matchup with the Hoosiers will test not just Ponder, but the entire Tigers' secondary. After intercepting just seven passes in 2012, Missouri has already intercepted six passes in two games this season. But Missouri hasn't faced a passing offense as potent as Indiana's yet this season.
Missouri will often be playing with at least three cornerbacks on the field on Saturday, which will test the depth of the secondary. With Ernest Payton out for the year with a torn ACL, there's even more pressure on Ponder and the rest of the cornerbacks behind Gaines.
"Everybody has to be ready for every play on the field," Gaines said. "The secondary has a big part of getting a win this week."
By now, Ponder, a senior, is used to it. Gaines has been the star of the secondary since his sophomore season. Teams don't want to throw the ball Gaines' way, respecting his cover skills and big-play ability. That means more passes for everyone else.
"When you get targeted more, that’s more opportunities to make plays," Ponder said. "When you make plays, you get your name out there.
"They’re calling me out, so I have to be ready."
Ponder knows the trash talk won't stay on the Internet, either. With a primetime kickoff at a Big Ten school and a group of receivers that has the production to backup the talk, Ponder is preparing himself for a war of words.
"You’ll probably see some back and forth,” Ponder admitted with a laugh.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.