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Funchess shows versatility in career day

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published October 5, 2013

The biggest, and really only, knock on Devin Funchess so far in his Michigan career has been his inability to block. Funchess, a sophomore, has repeatedly lined up in the tight end position only to prove each time that he can’t handle his blocking duties as well as fellow sophomore tight end A.J. Williams.

That all changed in Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t like getting guarded really,” Funchess said. “I just try to get open.”

Time and time again, he found himself with daylight between the closest defender or with a significant height advantage over him.

Funchess didn’t suddenly become a blocking tight end, but the game plan changed dramatically so he didn’t need to. Lining up at wide receiver, in the slot and at tight end, Funchess, at 6-foot-5, posed a threat that the Golden Gophers simply couldn’t keep track of.

Throw in a returned-to-form Devin Gardner at quarterback, and Funchess had himself a career day. He accumulated career highs of 151 yards and seven catches — the longest and last of which came in the waning minutes of the game on a 46-yard bomb from Gardner. Funchess’s 24-yard catch and run gave the Wolverines their second touchdown of the day, and a lead they kept for the duration.

According to Rivals.com, only one tight end in program history has had a more productive single-game performance than Funchess did on Saturday: Jim Mandich’s 156-yard day in 1969 — Bo Schembechler’s first year as head coach — against Purdue.

“We obviously planned it that way,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said of Funchess’s new, versatile role. “Getting him on the perimeter is a mismatch in a lot of ways. He runs awfully well and is a big target. Just trying to really take advantage of his skill set.”

Reporters pressed Funchess after the game for any clues as to why the conditions were ripe Saturday for a break-out display. He explained that the coaches told him what they wanted him to do to exploit Minnesota’s weaknesses, and he was happy to oblige.

Perhaps it simply took until this point for the coaching staff to figure out how best to effectively use Funchess’s size and athleticism. Aside from fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, few receivers have emerged as true weapons through five weeks. Funchess can add depth to the unit and create a match-up nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.

Funchess and Gallon complement each other in a unique way — the tinier, speedier Gallon has drawn much of the attention from defensive backs so far. With Funchess’s emergence as a threat at different spots on the line of scrimmage, it gives Gardner, who has forced throws too often this season, far more help.

“Whoever (gets open) gets the ball,” Gardner deadpanned.

Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint knows that the more options the Wolverines have on offense, the easier it will be for him to find room to run.

“(Funchess) can do stuff with his hands and with his feet,” Toussaint said. “It’s incredible. It takes a load off.”