Wildcats are wary of Michigan’s Funchess

12/27/2013 4:07 PM

12/27/2013 4:07 PM

Devin Funchess isn’t limited to one position.

The Michigan sophomore is listed as a tight end, but he has the hands of a receiver and the size of an offensive lineman. He helps the Wolverines in all three areas.

Funchess is nearing the end of a season in which he has caught 47 passes for 727 yards and six touchdowns as a tight end, slot receiver and wide receiver, while also using his 6-foot-5, 228-pound frame to boost Michigan’s running game as a blocker.

Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, who’s watched video of Funchess in preparation for Saturday’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, describes Funchess as a hybrid player capable of stretching the field in ways few can.

“Most people call him a tight end who detaches himself from time to time,” Snyder said. “I call him a receiver who lines up as a tight end every once in a while. They utilize him a great deal, but they use him as a wide receiver far more than they do as a tight end.”

Funchess creates a difficult matchup for the K-State defense. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is the only comparable player the Wildcats have faced, but he didn’t line up wide.

There may be times when cornerbacks Kip Daily or Dorrian Roberts have to compete with Funchess for jump balls. With freshman Shane Morris at quarterback, Michigan might favor the middle of the field and target Funchess throughout.

“There aren’t many players like me out there,” Funchess said. “Penn State and Iowa have some guys that are kind of similar, but no one else. Our focus is to take advantage of that and get me in different spots. That’s why I line up in different places. It doesn’t matter to me if my hand is in the dirt or I am in the slot. All of it is fun.”

Added Michigan coach Brady Hoke: “He gives you a playmaker threat where people have to make decisions with how to defend him. We can use him as a tight end. We can use him as a wide out. The mismatches that can be created are pretty good.”

Still, K-State is confident it can win the matchup.

K-State defenders have gone back and watched replays of the Wildcats’ game against Texas Tech to prepare for Funchess, studying what they did best against Amaro, who caught nine passes for 67 yards. He had a solid day, but was unable to boost Texas Tech’s offense. The Wildcats pounded the Red Raiders 49-26.

K-State linebacker Blake Slaughter covered Amaro for portions of that game. He thinks that experience will leave him well prepared for Funchess.

“The most important thing is just being aware,” Slaughter said. “We are aware he is going to be a difficult test. Michigan can run the ball with him down and they can throw it with him out wide. He is a great athlete. You just have to be aware of where he is at and be able to play him accordingly.”

Slaughter said senior receiver Evan Loomis helped K-State prepare for Amaro by mimicking him on the scout team in practices. This month, senior tight end Andre Jackson has been in charge of simulating Funchess.

Jackson (6-5, 225) has been a near-perfect match. But can K-State stop the real thing?

“They are going to key on me, but that’s nothing new,” Funchess said. “I have seen more defenders on me all year. Defenders are playing a lot deeper against me. It’s harder to get open. I am just going to be prepared for that.”

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