The center of attention is an unfamiliar place for Missouri linebacker Brandon Barnes.
“That’s him. He’s quiet,” said wide receiver Darius Outlaw, who roomed with Barnes their freshman year. “He doesn’t really keep to himself, but he does keep to himself.”
Barnes, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, could not avoid the spotlight on Saturday. His play was crucial in Missouri’s 62-31 win against Texas Tech, with two interceptions and a forced fumble.
“Brandon Barnes made some plays,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “I mean, I can just go through a bunch of them. That’s good; it’s nice to be able to do that.”
The Tigers, who reentered the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Sunday at No. 21, built an ample first-half lead from Barnes’ defensive effort.
In the first quarter with MU leading 10-3, Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons handed off to running back Johnnie Mack at the Red Raiders’ 45. Barnes tackled Mack, who fumbled, and free safety Nino Williams II recovered the ball. On their resulting possession, the Tigers scored on quarterback Brad Smith’s 10-yard run.
On the Red Raiders’ first play after Smith’s touchdown, Barnes backpedaled almost 30 yards and intercepted a ball intended for wide receiver Mickey Peters. The Tigers regained possession at their 49 and scored again six plays later, this time on tailback Zack Abron’s 4-yard run.
Barnes said he was able to anticipate Symons’ errant pass because of his teammates’ play.
“What I saw was the quarterback scrambling, (linebacker James) Kinney got in position where the receiver had to go around him,” Barnes said. “(Defensive end Zach) Ville had a good hit on the quarterback, he kind of lofted it up there, and I went after it.”
In the fourth quarter, Texas Tech’s dangerous offense tried a comeback, but Barnes again showed glimpses of his former stints at wide receiver and free safety.
With 11 minutes left and the Tigers leading 48-31, Barnes intercepted another Symons pass near the right sideline at Missouri’s 10.
On Texas Tech’s fourth-and-22 play with 7:54 left, Barnes broke up a pass intended for receiver Wes Welker. He had a chance to intercept the ball, but batted the ball down to end Texas Tech’s offensive series.
“That’s that free safety in him,” said Kinney, who also had an interception on Saturday. “He made some great plays. He was around the ball and made, two, three, how many picks did he have? Two good picks. And nice breakups out there. He did a good job today.”
Barnes moved from playing wide receiver in 2001 to free safety last season. In his first year at linebacker, Barnes has started every game and is second on the team in tackles.
“He stepped up today,” Outlaw said. “He’s been doing it all year, though.”
Barnes said playing his career-best game confirmed that drifting around the field was the right decision.
“It did,” Barnes said. “It did, all right.”
Now that he is sure that he is in the right place, maybe Barnes can start getting used to getting noticed.