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Daniel Barker and tight end room playing key role in MSU's recent offensive success

November 13, 2022
<p>MSU 5th year tight end Daniel Barker (9) makes a touchdown during the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2, 2022. The Spartans beat the Broncos with a score of 35-13. </p>

MSU 5th year tight end Daniel Barker (9) makes a touchdown during the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2, 2022. The Spartans beat the Broncos with a score of 35-13.

Michigan State’s tight ends have been getting in on the action during the team’s last two wins over Rutgers and Illinois. One of these players was fifth-year tight end Daniel Barker who recorded season-high numbers against the Scarlet Knights.

Barker finished Saturday’s game with 64 receiving yards, including a 26-yard reception he took to the middle of the endzone on a pass from redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne.

“We need really high-level production from our tight ends,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said. “They’re a big part of what we do.”

Relying on a similar game plan against Illinois, MSU looked to their tight ends and running backs to pick up some extra yardage while the receivers were under extra coverage.

“We knew that the tight ends would be a factor in the passing game this week based upon some of the things they were trying to do,” Tucker said. “Obviously they’re trying to take away our receivers. (Running) backs and tight ends can be very effective in the passing game and we have good tight ends.”

This plan appeared to have success, considering Barker, redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins and redshirt sophomore tight end Maliq Carr all were in double digits when it came to receiving yards.

“We have really good design,” Tucker said. “Coach Johnson and the rest of the staff put together a really good game plan to take advantage of what we thought we could get in the passing game. ... We moved the ball around and we took what the defense gave us and Payton (Thorne) did a good job finding those guys so we have a lot of flexibility in our offense to get the ball to our backs, tight ends and receivers and the quarterback run game as well so it’s a really good game plan and execution and we still have room for improvement.”

Barker was second to only redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed in receiving yards and broke the game open in the first quarter with the first touchdown reception of the game. He ran the route to the center, splitting the two defenders to make himself a wide-open target as Thorne released his pass. He then only had a few steps to take before entering the end zone, giving the Spartans their first touchdown of the day.

“We kind of took advantage of them having the middle field open,” Barker said. “It was a designed play the coaches and the staff drew up and we’ve kind of been hitting that play all week so it wasn’t a surprise to execute it.”

Thorne gave praise to his tight end for the play and confirmed the play was drawn up ahead of time to target Barker.

"That's the play design," Thorne said. "We put that in earlier in the season and our other guys did a good job of pulling other guys out of there and then DJ (Barker) splits those two and was able to score so it was a good job."

Versatility and the ability to adapt on the fly have proven well for the Spartan offense over the last two games. Before Illinois, most of the scoring was coming from the passing game and was being provided by the wide receivers with little tight end involvement and little consistency from the run game.

Now with a revitalized run game as well as tight ends getting in on the action, the offense appears to be fully functioning as the season winds down. With just two games left on the regular season schedule, they'll need to reproduce the same level of intensity on all levels of offense in order to get the final win needed to achieve bowl eligibility.

The Spartans remain home next Saturday to take on the Indiana Hoosiers at Spartan Stadium before finishing out the season on the road against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

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