Barker’s career day aids Shortell, Gophers

Samuel Gordon

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill insinuated last Tuesday that the Gophers hadn’t found a real go-to guy at the wide receiver position.

Think again, coach.

On Saturday, A.J. Barker ran circles around Western Michigan’s defense en route to 101 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

In week one, he had his first 100-yard game. In week two, he scored his first career touchdown. In week three, he was arguably the best player on the field.

“I think right now with A.J. and all our receivers, they’re running pretty good routes,” Kill said. “We’re not real deep anyway. It’s really, really good for us that A.J. is doing so well.”

In three games this season, Barker has 10 receptions for 231 yards and four touchdowns, all team-highs. Pretty crazy considering he’s a walk-on, right? Not in Barker’s mind.

“I’m probably one of the crazy people out there that did believe I could do that,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t know if Western Michigan was ready to cover me. … I just took advantage of the opportunities given to me.”

Quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell both looked Barker’s way in big situations. Gray hit Barker on a slant for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Shortell found him twice for touchdowns in the second quarter.

In Minnesota’s Sept. 8 win over New Hampshire, Shortell threw Barker a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. This week, the duo picked up right where they left off.

Barker has been hampered by hamstring problems for much of his career. Now he’s finally healthy, and he credited his growth as a player to the struggle the injuries caused.

“Looking back on it, I think it turned out to be a positive,” Barker said. “It allowed the chip on my shoulder to continue to grow. I think it will keep growing.”

Notes

—Barker is the 11th Minnesota player to catch three touchdowns in a game. Da’Jon McKnight did it last November against Michigan State.

—Tight end Drew Goodger’s touchdown reception in the second quarter was the first of his career.

—Running back Donnell Kirkwood set a new career-high with 110 rushing yards. Kirkwood had never eclipsed 100 yards before Saturday.
—Michael Carter’s interception in the first quarter was the Gophers’ fifth as a team in three games this season. They had four picks all of last year.

—Reserve linebacker Spencer Reeves wore No. 51 in honor of Gary Tinsley.