- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 23, 2013
Michigan’s offense was always relying on the little guy, but it took a big, big man to make sure that little guy could shoot up to his highest potential.
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When Michigan finally found another receiving threat alongside fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon — who is probably shorter than his listed height of 5-foot-8 — nobody thought that the end result would be the single greatest statistical receiving performance in the 134 years of Michigan football.
But when sophomore tight end Devin Funchess split out wide three games ago, the Wolverines' offense suddenly became a lot more dangerous. On Saturday, it helped Gallon more than anyone.
Before Funchess — who is probably taller than his listed height of 6-foot-5 — made the transition to a wide receiver that sometimes lines up as a tight end instead of the other way around against Minnesota, Gallon was getting little to no help from the other wide receivers. Through seven games, there isn’t a wide receiver on the roster with more than eight catches, other than Gallon and Funchess.
The results were immediate for Funchess — 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the three games since he switched, as opposed to eight catches for 146 yards and one touchdown in the four games in which he was used predominately as a tight end.
And yet, the impact he had in the shootout win over Indiana last week was more about how he helped Gallon than about his own statistics. After breaking Michigan and Big Ten records for receiving yards in a game (369 on 14 catches and two touchdowns), Gallon said that one of the reasons he was so open was because the Indiana defense was afraid of giving up a big gain to Funchess.
The defense had to pick its poison, and on Saturday, it picked Gallon. The beauty is that next week, it might be the other way around.
“There’s no question that’s a big part of it,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said after the game. “The threat that (Funchess) is vertically down the field, so I don’t think there’s any doubt he had a lot of attention from Indiana and their secondary. That in turn helps obviously if you’re going to combo or double a guy or whatever. It helps another guy out.”
Even just a few weeks ago, there was real concern over Michigan’s offense. It was inconsistent and turnover prone and looked like it was going to be a real issue against teams like Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Those issues still might be valid over the next month, but the offense is in a much better state to handle the Wolverines’ toughest road stretch of the year than it was even three games ago.
It’s impossible to give all that credit to Funchess, but his positional switch has been a major reason for the revitalization of the offense and not just for the receivers. Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner has also benefited from having more than one bona fide, legitimate receiving target.
In the four games with Funchess playing tight end, Gardner completed 57.4 percent of his passes, threw eight interceptions and just seven touchdowns and threw for 200 yards per game.
Now, over the last three games, Gardner has a 66.2-percent completion rate, with just two interceptions to go along with six touchdowns and is throwing for 326 yards per game. Some of those stats are inflated because of how awful Indiana’s defense was, but the comparison still stands.
If Funchess was back in his previous role, who knows how the Hoosiers would have covered Gallon and how that would have affected the outcome of the game. Certainly, there would have been more attention paid to him, as the secondary was laughably lax in its coverage, even after Gallon had hauled in more than 300 receiving yards.
And maybe when we look back on this 2013 season, we will look back on the moment that Funchess became a wide receiver as the turning point for the offense.
But right now, what we do know is that there’s nothing scarier for a defense than having to deal with a two-headed monster, especially if one head is higher than the other.