The hype surrounding freshman tight end Devin Funchess since his breakout performance against Air Force hasn't died down nearly halfway through the 2012 season. Already an important and rare match-up nightmare with his combination of size and speed, the one-handed catch just shy of the goal line Saturday afternoon left offensive coordinator Al Borges and wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski pretty impressed.
"That was an incredible catch now, and I had no feel for it from the booth," said Borges. "I couldn't really see how could a catch that was until I saw a replay of it later; but he had to reach back and catch that ball and there was a guy bearing down on him from the right. Just to hold it was a minor miracle."
"Jeff Hecklinski kind of went crazy—he goes, ‘He caught that sucker!'," added Borges. "And I said, ‘That's why we recruited him.' I was minimizing it, but then when I saw I probably would have reacted the same way if I knew what a good catch (it was)."
The impact of Funchess is a blinding bright spot for a tight end position that came into the year with several question marks in unproven fifth-year senior Brandon Moore, walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski, and fellow freshmen A.J. Williams.
"Something that you all don't talk about as much, but is doing a lot of the same things with the blocking game, is A.J. Williams," said Borges. "A.J. Williams is playing probably as much as Devin is, or somewhere around there. We don't ask him to do as much from a receiving perspective, but we ask him to do basically everything Kevin Koger did a year ago; and between him and Mike Kwiatkowski they're kind of shouldering that load and he's done a good job."
"Devin does the flashier stuff everyone notices, but both of our freshmen are coming along nicely at a position that we were concerned about," Borges said, "and it's getting where we're not quite as much as we were."
Defense denied Fitz
On paper the statistics might point to an added emphasis on Denard Robinson running the football against Purdue. With 235 yards rushing to become the Big Ten all-time leader in that category as a quarterback, it's hard to argue that the Wolverines weren't looking to attack with Robinson's feet.
Bug ask Al Borges, he'll tell you those numbers had a lot to do with Purdue as opposed to the offensive game plan the Wolverines were looking to employ.
"If you watch the tape, they were following Fitz all over the field," said Borges. "Fitz had very few good running opportunities. 17 carries, and I went over the whole tape. It was good news and bad news though to be honest with you. We pulled a couple zone reads where they were all over Fitz and Denard was wide open down the field. So it wasn't like it was bad, it just didn't make Fitz's numbers look very good."
In 2011, Fitz took it to Purdue piling up 170 yards on the ground and two scores—statistics that clearly stuck with the Boilermakers who made it a point to not let it happen again.
"What kind of happened last year is Fitz showed up big, especially towards the end of the season," said Borges. "People have become really aware of him."
"We're best when we can threaten two ways," Borges went on. "Now that doesn't necessarily mean both guys have to rush for big numbers every game. That seldom happens. But if one guy doesn't get big numbers and another guy does, and usually it is a result of how they decide to defend you; at least in part."
Defending the Wolverines out of the shotgun set is essentially asking the defense to account for a quadruple option play. With Jeremy Gallon coming in motion on jet sweeps, Fitz ready for the hand off, and Denard ready to take off or throw, the popular phrase "having enough bullets" defensively can be just the ticket for the offense as well.
"At the end of the day we have to have enough equipment in our offense to counter a punch," said Borges.
"If you can get them in good scenarios, that play always has a chance to succeed because that play has a litany of options," Borges added.
To watch video of Borges from Tuesday's press conference, press play below.