Picture Pages: Funchess On The Loose Comment Count

Brian October 8th, 2013 at 2:24 PM

A few weeks ago, Devin Gardner was the king of turnovers, baseball existed, and no one other than Jeremy Gallon was the target of passes. None of these things are true anymore—NONE—thanks in large part to Michigan exploring the idea of using Devin Funchess as a large and generally in charge wide receiver. Michigan's second touchdown was an excellent example of what happens when you focus too much one one guy and how Funchess can be effective even if he's not as fast as a really fast guy.

It's third and fourteen after Chris Bryant got smoked for a sack on second and five; Michigan comes out with a trips formation with Gallon the lone receiver to the bottom of the screen. Jake Butt, Drew Dileo, and Devin Funchess are bunched to the top of the screen. Minnesota responds with a 3-3-5 stack look and one deep safety:


Minnesota's coverage is going to end up super inane. They'll rush three, leave all three linebackers in no-mans land neither pressuring Gardner or covering anyone, and bracket Jeremy Gallon, leaving one on one coverage on all three guys to the trips side.

Below here is an approximation of what they do. Linebackers have been designated "blorp" in an attempt to get the reader thinking about the walrus defensive coordinator accidentally blowing bubbles with his own spit instead of whether he should have called this defense on third and fourteen.


Now, two of these guys seem to have obvious tasks. One is in man coverage on Toussaint. The other is spying Gardner. The third, the top-most blorp, seems to be in a robber zone type thing to the trips side of the field.

A moment after the snap, Michigan's plan is revealed:


Butt runs an out at the LOS; Dileo tries to get up the seam. He'll be held and thrown to the ground, drawing a flag. Funchess releases upfield, well past the blorp zone, and is one on one with Martez Shabazz, a senior JUCO transfer who hasn't started for Minnesota in his career.

Shabazz has already turned to run with Funchess at this point, when Funchess is five yards off of him:


That's because Funchess is angling for the corner of the endzone, selling fade.

This evaporates from the screen shortly after, but on replay you can see Funchess flip the defensive back entirely around as he breaks to the post.


You may remember "defensive back turns 360 degrees" from such things as the 2010 defense. More likely you made sure you do not remember that by liberal application of whiskey. Either way, your result is separation.


Gardner's throw is high and a little behind, but Funchess don't care, and the defensive back is trying to get a PBU on a guy who's 1) a half foot taller than him, 2) leaping, and 3) made of solid material.




It is now 14-7.


Slow not really necessary here. Here's a couple of replay angles, the first of which does a good job of showing Funchess selling fade and his quick transition to the post. That's a quality route even with the stumble.

Items Of Interest

This defensive call is ridiculous. It's third and fourteen and you don't give your crappy backup corner any help against Devin Funchess. I get bracketing Gallon, sure. But going straight man against three WRs without any help at all is asking for a facepunching. Here is a facepunching.

I also get spying Gardner, and covering Toussaint out of the backfield once you've scouted Michigan's wheel route predilection. It's that third linebacker hanging out nine yards downfield that really gets me.

Devin Funchess can turn around Minnesota defensive backs. This was far from an isolated occurrence. Here it seems like the CB is thinking "oh crap oh crap oh crap this giant robot thing is going to put a fade on my face," bails super early to the corner, and then gets turned around easy on the post. At that point it's all over even if Gardner's throw is less than perfect, as it is, because anything up high requires the DB to go through Funchess's butt (not that Butt) to even get a finger on his arms.

Can Funchess do this to better opposition? That's the question. It was interesting to watch Michigan State go up against 6'5" Admiral-spawn Corey Robinson in the Notre Dame game, as he presented a lot of the same issues. State had those safety things in the middle of the field, though, which limited Robinson to sideline routes on which he was fairly successful, catching 3 balls for 54 yards and drawing a couple of pass interference calls. Funchess is pretty much the same guy.

He'll have to prove it down the stretch here. I think his route running skills are quality enough to make him an option, and even when guys get over the top, the Hemingway Option always remains on the table.

Better behind and high than on target. What is the nature of "on target"? This not-perfect throw works out perfectly because of the nature of Devin Funchess. If it hits him in the hands in stride there are defensive backs other than this one who will be there to break it up. If you lay it up and let the guy get the rebound, nobody's defending this.

The nature of on target varies with the target. Gardner seemed a bit off with his timing in this one, resulting in a number of balls that forced receivers to reach behind them. Funchess has proven very good at this in his career, and his general enormousness moves throws that are definite incompletions to Gallon into big chunks of yards:

That's why Michigan's receiving corps is about to be land of the giants.

With Funchess threatening, it will be a struggle for defenses to cover everything. Minnesota tries to play it safe by rushing three, which gives Gardner time. Despite the fact that they have eight guys in coverage their fear of Gardner's scrambling ability pulls guys out of relevant coverage, and while they could still put one of those safety guys back there, Dileo's route up the seam will give hypothetical safety a choice between those two folks and Gardner should have an option either way.



October 8th, 2013 at 2:31 PM ^

Funchess stumbles on the cut and the ball is still thrown a little behind him.  Great catch by adjusting by Devin but hope Gardner gains more confidence in his throws.  Kinda wonder if opposing teams now make adjustments for Funchess if we can expect Gallon and Chesson to have some big games?


October 8th, 2013 at 2:45 PM ^

Does the Funchess Stumble have anything to do with the pass being behind him? Maybe Gardner caught it and thought Funchess would slow down more than he did.

Also, on that second play, to throw it on time, Gardner would have had to throw it right when he got to his 7 step drop. He wouldn't have time to read it before throwing IMO. He then had to throw slightly behind target to miss the LB in zone coverage.

I am not trying to make excuses for Devin's inaccuracies. But I feel like on some of the throws, they can at least be justified as to why they aren't perfect. And to be honest, if they are caught then I don't care.


October 8th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^

I also noticed that the one pass that was thrown behind to Funchess was thrown so that he did not have to throw over the definsive player.  The announcer seemed to want to push the story that Gardner was inaccurate, despite any evidence that did not support this. 


October 9th, 2013 at 12:49 PM ^

Oh god yes^

I can't remember an announcer duo more oblivious to what was going on in front of them while they gleefully tore a guy down. Even the NFL guys doing Mike Vick's first games back were kid gloving compared to Patrick and Cunningham vs. Devin Gardner this game.


October 8th, 2013 at 4:59 PM ^

Not asking for perfection by any means, just an observation from a fan.  Simply pointed out that Funchess slipped....nothing more, nothing less! I'm glad the play worked out and we scored. Excited to see how this combo works out the remaining games.

Mr Miggle

October 8th, 2013 at 5:55 PM ^

You did not simply point out that Funchess slipped. You said he slipped and Gardner still overthrew him, followed by questioning Gardner's confidence in his throws. The implication that Gardner's underthrow would have been even worse if Funchess hadn't slipped is obvious. I won't believe you if you deny that's what you ihought. You didn't need to defend your previous post and misrepresenting what you said is not a good way to do so.


October 9th, 2013 at 6:33 AM ^

Please tell me your kidding! Stop taking yourself so serious, your on a michigan blog talking football with other fans. This isn't a dick measuring contest. I saw what I saw and unless your on the coaching staff, your opinion means nothing. Challenging me to defend my comments it a tad bit childish wouldn't you agree? The ball was thrown behind him, whether it was intentional or not is irrelevant. As I stated earlier, it went for a TD and that's all that matters.


October 9th, 2013 at 9:19 AM ^

The thing is, Gardner is supposed to make his read during the drop and release the ball at the time his last foot hits--not make the drop, then make his reads, and then throw. He definitely seems to be improving, but late throws have been one of his biggest issues.


October 8th, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

If you're Borges, which ceiling* do you push Funchess towards? Gronk or Megatron?

Gronk is 6'6" 265#

Calvin Johnson is 6'5" 236#

Should he focus on adding size and blocking? Or adding speed and route running?

* - obviously either would be amazing, as both guys are matchup nightmares. Not saying Funchess could be either, but... (NTB) he could go either "giant wide-out" or "freak playing TE"

Ron Utah

October 8th, 2013 at 3:03 PM ^

Funchess will NEVER be as fast as Megatron.  Though they are roughly the same size, Funchess isn't going to be a WR in the NFL.  He's a guy who is almost certainly destined for the Dallas Clark, Joseph Fauria, Tony Scheffler type of role at the next level.

He's also probably never going to be Gronk--I'm just not sure Funchess will ever be much of a blocker.  I think he's closer to Gronk than Megatron, but I do believe that Fauria is a better comparison.


October 8th, 2013 at 3:03 PM ^

Funchess didn't gain any weight from last year, and his routes have seemed crisp over the last  2 years, and his hands have been very good.  He's shown he's not great at blocking and even admitted he wasn't interested in hitting when he first got here.  If he's a 6'5" Junior hemmingway, I'll take it all day with Gallon on the other side, and Butt/Dileo as third threats.


October 8th, 2013 at 3:48 PM ^

Chesson has looked good as well.  I'm guessing those 5 will get 90% of the snaps from now on for recievers.  I also am looking forward to Kerridge getting passes out of the backfield, once or twice a game. I'm guessing they are still waiting for the run to develop before they do this. 

Ron Utah

October 8th, 2013 at 3:08 PM ^

Great write-up!

This is one of those situations where I can see the DC's logic clearly.  You have already figured out some of the things that were important to MInnesota to defend:

  • Bracket Gallon, because obvious
  • Spy DG, because obvious
  • Cover Fitz, because obvious

You've now used four of your available eight defenders in pass coverage (two for Gallon).  You're left with three DBs and one LB to cover the bunch.

If you've scouted Michigan--which you most certainly have--you know Al Borges loves to use the bunch on third down to get open players by using a similar route tree to what he employs here.  One guy heads for the sideline (usually the inside guy), one guy heads inside the hashes, and one guy tries to take the top off the defense by going deep.

USUALLY--and in fact, later in this very game--the pass goes to the guy heading to the sideline, because his man has had to move through the trash trying to get to him and he's often open.  This is similar to what happened on the Dileo play (pass off his finger tips when he was WIDE open) though they may have been in zone on that one.  If it doesn't go to the sideline, it usually goes to the inside guy (also Dileo in many cases).  I don't think I've ever seen this route tree go to the deep man, whom I believe usually runs a fade or corner.

So, knowing all that, you use your LB to play a robber--reading the QB's eyes and seeing if that throw goes inside or outside--and trying to double the receiver or make a quick tackle after the catch.  Also, Funchess is "just a tight end" before this game; he's had his moments, but has never been the featured receiver.  You have to believe a good DB can cover him, because the alternative is to leave those inside/outside routes in a one-on-one which is VERY difficult to defend in straight man.

Bottom line: Michigan went against tendency to a guy they haven't used much on deep routes, and Funchess ran a great route and made a great play to score.  Here are your alternatives:

  • Have your safety play center field - this leaves Gallon one-on-one.
  • Take man coverage off Toussaint
  • Take the spy off DG
  • Have your LB either carry the seem with Dileo or drop deep middle - leaving Butt, Dileo, or Funchess one-on-one (notice how open Butt's route was initially)

It appears Minnesota wanted to give help on Dileo, who is definitely a third-down security blanket.  Not a bad call, and one that I might make in that situation.  I like even better trying to have the LB split the difference between Dileo and Butt, since those seem to be the commonly-used routes.

What I'm trying to say is that this is an RPS.  Michigan is going against their own tendencies and using a guy that has never been used as he was in this game.  Great call by Al Borges, and none of the alternative plans of action by Minnesota would have yielded better match-ups, IMO.

Of course, this is why the shotgun with four credible receiving threats is so hard to defend--you can't cover everything as a defense, and this is with only a three man rush.

AND...this is why this game was SO important for Michigan's offense: we now have another credible receiving threat to take pressure off Gallon.  Double Gallon?  Fine, we'll throw it to Funchess.  Double Funchess?  Fine, we'll throw it to Gallon.  Cover two?  Fine, we'll run MANBALL and beat you up in the box, or use our underneath threats (Dileo, crossing routes and middle screens to Chesson) to move the ball in the air.  Heck, we might even throw-in a quick pass to Jeremy Jackson (but not a bubble screen).

This was a vital development for us; we haven't had anything but Gallon as a real threat up to this point.  I can't wait to see how Borges uses Funchess the rest of the way.  I sure hope we don't see any "Bad Al" from here on out, because when he's on, he calls an amazing game.

EDIT: FWIW, I think this is also a great read by DG, who recognized the defense and saw the opportunity with Funchess.  Butt was open too, but Funchess is clearly the better option.


October 8th, 2013 at 3:57 PM ^

Yes, he is Michigan's Megatron, and for those who don't like the OC for whatever reason, understand what he just did against Minnesota for future opponents? Made them gameplan for unbalanced lines regularly and this GUY on the outside against little guys who can't deal with him physically, period. I mean if he can't do what a tightend does, why waste his size and speed against linebackers and support in the middle of the field when you can post him anywhere with a size advantage on every play. 

I mean who wants to tackle this guy after he's caught the ball and has momentum. Lost cause. This is an absolute no-brainer. And the consequential benefit is what, exactly? It opens everything else up in your offensive aresenal, because now they will double team him and this opens the coverage downfield, passing and running lanes. 

Zone Left

October 8th, 2013 at 3:42 PM ^

You're right, this is why Michigan's receivers are about to be giants. There aren't too many college defensive backs who can cover a 6'5" receiver if the ball is thrown well.

This play shows Dileo covered closely. Assuming there was no penalty, only a really well thrown ball to him is completed. On the other hand, even if the Minnesota DB didn't do a pirouette, Gardner still could have put one high and let Funchess get it. 

Basically, everything equal, a tall guy is better than a short guy. At least that's what I think Hoke and Borges believe.


October 8th, 2013 at 4:01 PM ^

I'm pretty sure if Funchess had gone up to Shabazz and said "Psst, I'm running a 10 yard post" before the play, it still goes for a TD. Can't stop that.


October 9th, 2013 at 9:38 AM ^

Good read, I like the analysis of  'on target' being relative to receiver's and defenders' locations, hieght, and abilities. 

One issue is that, from the ESPN replay, Gargner seems to be staring down Funchess the whole way. We can't see his eyes, but from behind it looks that way. 


October 9th, 2013 at 11:01 AM ^

The rebound comparison is spot-on. Gardner doesn't have to hit a guy like Funchess in the hands and in stride. A lot of times just putting the ball a little short will be better anyway. That allows Funchess to box his man out with his ridiculously large frame.