Fumbles dampen Barber’s record-tying day

The fumbles were a disappointment on an otherwise solid outing for one of Gophers’ most talented players.

Brett Angel

Minnesota running back Marion Barber III answered questions outside of the visitor’s locker room in Ohio’s Peden Stadium on Saturday evening, wearing his usual straight face.

There was nothing particularly strange about the demeanor of a guy who stays away from wisecracks and long sentences in post-game interviews as if they were made of kryptonite.

But for some reason, this day was different.

Barber and the Gophers had just dismantled Ohio’s triple-option offense in a 42-20 victory, boosting their record to 3-0 and earning them enough votes to climb to No. 24 in the USA Today/ ESPN coaches poll.

On top of that, Barber tied a school record by rushing for four touchdowns in a single game. But none of that seemed to matter to Barber, who noticeably had something else on his mind: fumbles.

Despite his 104 yards on 18 carries – and a new place in the record books – Barber was more concerned with the fact he fumbled three times on kick returns.

“It was just a bad day,” Barber said. “Just something I have to work on.”

Barber fumbled Ohio’s first kickoff of the day in the Minnesota end zone, but recovered quickly to return the ball 48 yards.

Late in the second quarter with the Gophers leading 21-14, Barber fumbled a punt, but again recovered the ball himself. Officials flagged Ohio for fair catch interference on the play, even though it didn’t appear Barber waived for the fair catch.

In the third quarter, Barber fumbled another punt. This time, Ohio recovered at the Gophers 22-yard line with a chance to pull within seven points.

The Minnesota defense stood its ground, however, and bailed Barber out by giving the ball back to its offense after a fourth-down incompletion.

Barber later scored on a 19-yard touchdown run, but replays showed he might have lost control of the ball before crossing the goal line.

The fumbles were a major disappointment on an otherwise solid outing for one of the team’s most talented players and most dangerous offensive weapons.

“That ruins everything for a running back,” running backs coach Vic Adamle said. “Even if it’s only one (fumble).

“I don’t care how many touchdowns you score, for a running back to have a game where he grades out well, he can’t turn the ball over at all.”

When asked how he would evaluate Barber’s record-setting performance Saturday, Adamle pointed both thumbs down. Even without the fumbles, he said the game was “maybe above average.”

After returning home from Ohio, the first thing Barber and Adamle worked on at Sunday’s practice was fielding punts.

Coach Glen Mason has said he has no intentions of using anyone else to return punts.

But if Barber wants to continue contributing on special teams, he will have to steer clear of the mental lapses he suffered Saturday.

“It’s been addressed mentally and physically,” Adamle said. “I don’t foresee him having a problem catching punts back there. Some guys can’t do it; he’s already proven he can. We just have to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind.”

Barber has averaged 13.7 yards on 13 punt returns this season, his longest being a 50-yard return against Troy State. He has also returned two kickoffs this season for an average of 39 yards.

Barber had not fumbled this season before Saturday.