Devin Funchess displayed his elite athleticism and playmaking skills in The Game last season by catching four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. He is an every bigger mismatch this season, standing at 6'5, 230 pounds starting at wide receiver rather than tight end and gaining Jimmy Graham and Kelvin Benjamin comparisons. Funchess has been hampered by an ankle injury all season that he suffered in week two versus Notre Dame and he has not been the same since. But, he is still the Wolverine's most talented player on offense, and he will have to be accounted for throughout the game.
Even fighting through injury, Funchess has still managed 54 receptions on 97 targets, which equals 34% of the Michigan quarterback targets this season. When looking at his situational statistics, it shows that the coaching staff tries to get him involved early, with 24 of his 54 receptions coming in the first quarter. It is worrisome that his production significantly tails off as the game goes on, as he has caught 13 passes in the second quarter, 10 in the third quarter and only eight passes in the fourth quarter. This could be a result of Michigan being out of most of the games by the second half, but with this most likely being his last game as a Wolverine, I fully expect a Funchess to make an impact.
Since the first two games of the season, I do not feel that Funchess has been used properly. He is a major size mismatch for opposing secondaries because he is too fast for a linebacker to cover him and too big for most defensive backs. But he is rarely used in the downfield passing game, whether it would be in the seams or on the outside. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier uses him on screens and short to intermediate routes. It does make sense to get the ball in his hands quickly to make plays after the catch but his size and body control would allow him to win jump balls versus smaller defensive backs, like this play against Notre Dame:
Inside slot -- Mostly bubble screens, hooks, curls and crossing patterns.
Split outwide -- Mostly tunnel screens, curls, crossing patterns, occasional deep ball.
Slot -- Mostly screens, hooks, curls, outs and ins.
Flex tight end -- Mostly blocking, outs and short seam routes.
How to cover Funchess
With Funchess being Michigan's only true playmaker on the outside, I would expect co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash to use Doran Grant to shadow Funchess, much like the game plan versus Michigan State's Tony Lippett. Grant usually plays the boundary corner but he shadowed Lippett around the field, only allowing 64 yards on five catches to the Big Ten's leading receiver.
Funchess has had trouble fighting off press coverage and any contact in general, so I would expect Ash to have Grant up on the line of scrimmage, playing press coverage. If Grant can get physical early and take Funchess off of his game, it could impact his focus. He has been plagued by inconsistency the past month, dropping catchable balls and not running crisp routes when he is disengaged.