SE opposition still has a problem to Ponder

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

With Willie Ponder figuring to be such a marked man this season, the conventional thinking was that Southeast Missouri State University's senior wide receiver might be hard pressed to duplicate last year's sensational performance.

But through the first three games of the season, Ponder is considerably ahead of his pace from last year, when he had one of the finest receiving seasons in school history with 70 catches for 1,090 yards and 11 touchdowns.

So far this year, Ponder has caught 23 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. He ranks fifth nationally in receptions per game (7.67) and receiving yards per game (112.7). He leads the OVC in receiving yards per game and is second in receptions per game.

Ponder said he concentrated on his strength and speed in summer workouts.

"I think I've improved a lot from last year," he said. "I really worked out hard in the offseason to try and get better."

Southeast coach Tim Billings is certainly not surprised that Ponder is off to such a strong start, even though opponents now know all about him.

"Willie is just a tremendous player," Billings said. "He's big and strong, he can really run and he can jump. It's hard to stop a player like that."

While Ponder has sparkled again for the Indians, who play at Southwest Missouri State Saturday night in a battle of 2-1 teams, Billings likes the way his entire receiving corps is coming around. That group entered the year as a question mark after last year's second-leading receiver, Adrian Sanders, became academically ineligible and several other receivers left the squad.

Sophomore Chris NesSmith, after a big performance during Saturday's 35-32 loss at Eastern Michigan, has 12 receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Bill Coleman has 10 receptions for 110 yards and a TD.

Senior Tarik Simpson, who missed the opener with an injury and played sparingly in the second game, caught four passes for 45 yards against Eastern Michigan.

Even little-used freshman T.J. Milcic joined the mix Saturday as he caught a key two-point conversion pass.

And tight end Ray Goodson, although not really involved in the passing offense Saturday, has five receptions on the season.

"I said before the season that I thought our wide receivers as a whole would be better than last year and I think that's being proven out," Billings said.

Other statistical leaders

Junior quarterback Jack Tomco leads the OVC in passing efficiency with a rating of 146.9. After a huge performance Saturday, Tomco has completed 68.2 percent of his passes (45 of 66) for 509 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions. He ranks 15th nationally in passing efficiency.

Sophomore running back Corey Kinsey, despite being limited to 29 yards Saturday, still leads the OVC and ranks 14th nationally in rushing (113.67 yards per game).

NesSmith is fifth in the OVC in receptions per game (4.00) and senior running back Keiki Misipeka, who had a big game Saturday, is fifth in rushing (65.67 yards per game).

The Indians lead the OVC in scoring offense and total offense, with 31.67 points and 400 yards per game, respectively.

"I really feel like our offense is coming around," Billings said. "We're really starting to click."

Defensive leaders

Junior linebacker Ricky Farmer leads the Indians in tackles with 30, followed by junior end Ryan Roth (21), senior cornerback Demar Winston (20) and sophomore linebacker O.J. Turner (20).

Senior tackle James Jennette leads the way in quarterback sacks with two and Roth has the most tackles for loss with five, followed by Jennette with four.

While the Indians' defense has struggled overall so far, allowing an average of 453.67 yards per game to rank next-to-last in the OVC, Billings said he still has confidence in the unit.

"We've played well at times, but it's just a matter of being more consistent," he said.

Noteworthy

Billings said redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff East, who had a big late punt for 44 yards Saturday, may be used in that role more as freshman Andrew Winters has struggled some recently.

"Jeff can punt it well enough, and he's a good enough athlete to maybe keep the rush off," Billings said.

The Indians should be relatively healthy for Southwest Missouri. Sophomore cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who did not play Saturday with a hamstring injury, should be ready, as should his backup, Tipton, who left late in the second quarter with a leg injury.

Sophomore defensive end Adam Jones, who missed Saturday's game, is still questionable with a knee injury although tests showed no structural damage.

Southwest Missouri quarterback Ryan Porter has been ruled out of the Southeast game after he injured a knee in Saturday's 44-24 loss at Kansas.

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