A.J. Has Big Time Day

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Go Gophers! A.J. Barker
Go Gophers!
A.J. Barker had three touchdowns on five catches in a win against Western Michigan.
Go Gophers!
By Michael Molde

Junior wide receiver A.J. Barker is no stranger to putting up impressive numbers on a football field. After all, the 6-foot-1, 197-pounder out of De LaSalle High School holds Minnesota prep records for career receiving yards (4,018) and touchdown receptions (50).

On Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, Barker came up with a huge game for the Golden Gophers, catching three touchdowns in the opening half of Minnesota's 28-23 win against Western Michigan. The victory improved the Gophers to 3-0 for the first time since 2008, and increased Minnesota's winning streak to four games dating back to last season.

Barker hauled in five passes for 101 yards and the three touchdowns, which were all career-bests for a single game. He entered the 2012 season with just one career catch, and that came during his freshman season in 2010. This season, he has team-leading totals of 10 catches for 231 yards and four TDs.

Asked after the game if he felt he was capable of such a great performance, Barker showed no lack of confidence in his ability.

"I'm probably one of the crazy people out there that did think that," he said. "It's a credit to the coaching staff to put me in the positions to make the plays. I don't know if Western Michigan was ready to cover me or not, but I just took advantage of the opportunities given to me."

Barker's first touchdown of the afternoon opened the scoring for the Gophers, as he caught a 10-yard pass from MarQueis Gray to give Minnesota a 7-3 lead with 2:00 remaining in the first quarter.

Then, when Gray left the game with an injury late in the opening half, Barker gave the Gophers the spark they needed. Max Shortell replaced Gray at quarterback and completed his first three passes, with the third being a nine-yard strike to Barker in the corner of the end zone to give Minnesota the lead for good, 14-10.

Then, after the Minnesota defense forced a three-and-out, Shortell found Barker on a crossing route, and Barker used his speed to outrace WMU's defenders down the home sideline for a 53-yard scoring play with 0:30 left in the half. That score gave Minnesota a 21-10 lead at the break.

"The quarterback just makes their reads, and they found me today," said Barker.

The three touchdowns on the afternoon marked the first time a Minnesota receiver scored three times since former Gopher Da'Jon McKnight grabbed three TDs at Michigan State on Nov. 5, 2011. Barker becomes one of just 10 Minnesota players to have three or more TD receptions in a game.

Barker and the Golden Gophers will attempt to continue their successful start to the season next Saturday night, as they play host to Syracuse at TCF Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.

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