By Greg Garno, Managing Sports Editor
Published August 30, 2014
Devin Funchess is listed at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, three inches taller than Appalachian State’s tallest defensive back, 40 pounds heavier than any cornerback.
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So, he explained, what should have been obvious: why, no matter which defender or how many players Appalachian State lined up against him, he was a matchup nightmare every play.
“I’m not really a normal wide receiver,” Funchess said. “I felt like nobody could match up with that size.”
But it was his speed, not his size, that beat defenders as if he were in a video game. From the very first pass, a screen for 11 yards to the last, a touchdown, on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Funchess and the Michigan offense clicked early and often in the Wolverines’ 52-14 win over the Mountaineers.
It marked the first meeting between the two teams since Appalachian State pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever in 2007, beating a then fifth-ranked Wolverine squad, 34-32.
“That was our motivation,” said senior linebacker Jake Ryan, “just winning this game and doing it for our team. But we’re a whole different team, a whole different animal.”
Sophomore running back De’Veon Smith ran the ball in twice and senior quarterback Devin Gardner finished with only one incompletion to highlight a Wolverine offense that finished with 560 total yards in coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s first game.
“Our team was ready,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “You can tell they were really prepared the whole week. I think it was important to get on the board. … The offense kind of fed off each other a little bit.”
But it was Funchess, who switched from wearing No. 87 to No. 1 before the game, who stole the show. Former wide receiver Braylon Edwards, an All-American and All-Big Ten selection, was the last Wolverine to wear the number.
The junior wide receiver finished with three touchdowns and 95 yards on seven receptions in three quarters of work.
Already with two touchdowns in the second quarter, Funchess added the third by blowing past the cornerback, leaping above the two defenders draped over him and coming down with the ball in the back of the end zone.
“I went back to my old basketball skills, pulled it away from them and went for the rebound,” he said.
Added Gardner: “He’s tall, he’s fast. … I wouldn’t want to guard him.”
In the first quarter, Funchess caught his second touchdown near the 10-yard line and stiff-armed the cornerback as he walked past the goal line.
Sitting on the nine-yard line, Funchess caught his first touchdown when he slipped behind an Appalachian State cornerback on a post route to give an easy look for Gardner in the end zone.
It was the first time a Michigan receiver has ever caught three touchdowns in a season opener and the first time Funchess caught three touchdowns. Funchess overshadowed Gardner’s impressive day — 173 yards on 13-for-14 passing.
No amount of coverage proved effective, though. As the Mountaineers adjusted to Funchess, Michigan took advantage of an exposed defensive line using the combination of sophomore running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith.
Green and Smith busted open runs of 62 and 61 yards, respectively. Green, who started over Smith, rushed for 170 yards and one touchdown while Smith finished with 115 on top of his two touchdowns. The Wolverines finished with 345 yards on the ground.
“That starts up front with the offensive line,” Gardner said. “They did a good job of making holes and the running backs found them.”
Not to be outdone by the offense, sophomore Ben Gedeon returned redshirt freshman Mike McCray’s blocked punt for a touchdown late in the second quarter as Michigan held Appalachian State scoreless and to 74 total yards in the first half.
Quarterback Kameron Bryant and the rest of the Mountaineers did little to complete a comeback, failing to convert an onside kick in the third quarter after an 8-yard touchdown pass.
There was no chance to relive that day in 2007. Even as Appalachian State found more room to run against reserves, Michigan’s defense still closed out a redeeming day.