TROY — Quarterback Kaleb Barker is among the NCAA leaders in passing yards, passing efficiency and total offense.
The 6-foot-1, 206-pound senior from Decatur threw six touchdown passes — tying Sim Byrd’s Troy record — in last week’s 63-27 victory over Texas State. He completed 30 of 43 passes for 363 yards.
It was a tremendous game, but he’s been doing that almost all season. He has six 300-yard games passing, which is tied for third nationally with LSU’s Joe Burrow and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon.
He also has six games with three or more touchdown passes, tied for seventh in the country and trailing only Burrow, Gordon, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
“Anytime you can be mentioned in that company it’s pretty good,” Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said, referring to Byrd but not having to mention Barker’s contemporaries. “Kaleb’s obviously deserving and we just want him to keep doing it and finish strong, man.”
The coach said Barker has, indeed, been that good.
“You can see him playing with a lot of confidence,” Lindsey said. “But I think what you’ve seen him do is make better decisions as the year has gone — and really not put the ball in jeopardy near as much. Now, he makes some throws you’re like (winces) and it gets in there — kind of like the one to Khalil (McClain) the other day.
“I think when you see a quarterback — he starts seeing things quicker, he gets the ball out of his hand quick — that tells you he’s playing with confidence and knowing where to go with the ball. I think he’s done that, especially the last few weeks.”
Barker practically cringes when asked about his own play. This week’s Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week almost always points out the plays he didn’t make instead of the ones he did. And Troy’s 3-5 start prohibited the quarterback from celebrating his own accomplishments.
But after his adversity-filled journey — returning from his third knee surgery this season after his junior year ended after six games — the senior has found some self-satisfaction even in an imperfect season.
“As far as the lists and things, obviously I’m happy and honored, but it’s been a long time coming for me,” Barker said Tuesday. “A lot of tough things along the way made it really hard, and it makes it even better for me. A lot of things I’ve had to work through and battle.
“It’s been relentless for me, just the effort and a lot of days spent either on crutches or rehabbing. It makes it all worth it, to be a part of the lists I’m on. Like I said, a lot of that credit goes to the offensive line and the receivers making plays.”
Troy’s two-game winning streak got the Trojans back to .500 and gives the team — and the quarterback — even more momentum as they close out the regular season at Louisiana on Saturday and at home Nov. 29 against Appalachian State.
“Obviously, I’m very honored and privileged to do what I do and be where I’m at,” Barker said. “I don’t have a choice but to put all the accolades and things aside and give my guys credit.
“Last week, I felt like I had forever to throw the ball. That makes things so much easier when you’re not pressured. My receivers continue to make plays and do things that we practice, but it’s not necessarily part of the route. They’ll adjust the route or go to the open space, and those are things you can’t really coach — just ballplayers making plays, really.”
The coaches love that Barker is his own worst critic.
“I think if you ask Kaleb, yeah, he’s had a great season, but I think he would tell you, even by his standards, there is still more out there for him,” offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh said. “I think that is what is so much fun coaching guys like him.”
Barker wants more from this season. He embraces Troy’s difficult Louisiana-Appalachian State finish. Both teams are at the top of their divisions in the Sun Belt race to the league’s championship game.
“It’s an opportunity to kind of show our fans and everybody on the outside that the team, we’re still Troy,” Barker said. “We are 5-5, but we still have a really good team. It’s disappointing that we haven’t played our best until these last two weeks. I still don’t think we’ve put it together fully, on offense or defense.”
He talked about the importance of momentum and getting a fast start in the team’s final road game on Saturday.
“It kind of gets the whole team hyped, gets the energy going,” the quarterback said. “The defense, they have a little bit of an edge when we get out there and score first. We didn’t do that this past week, but after that we kind of lit it up. I think it’s big, whether we get the ball first or whether they do. We get a stop or we score kind of just sets the tone for the rest of the game.”
Of course, momentum is elusive and hard to keep for 60 minutes.
“That’s what I’ve seen the most out of this year. We’ll get a turnover and I’ll throw it right back to them, or vice versa. We can’t get the momentum rolling,” Barker said. “In football, especially conference games, if you can keep the momentum like we have these past two games, it’s hard to come back from that.
“It’s a deep, dark hole once you’re down and you have no momentum. It will be big, obviously, if we get the wins. I want to get the wins to show that we’re still a really good football team, despite being 5-5.”