Michigan tight end Devin Funchess (87) celebrates after making a 22-yard reception for a first down in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 42-13. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)The Associated Press
Michigan tight end Devin Funchess (87) scores a touchdown in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)The Associated Press
Michigan tight end Devin Funchess (87) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Jake Butt (88) in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)The Associated Press
Michigan tight end Devin Funchess (87) catches a 47-yard pass as Minnesota defensive back Jeremy Baltazar (22) defends in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 42-13. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)The Associated Press
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan has rediscovered tight end Devin Funchess.
The sophomore set career highs with seven receptions and 151 yards receiving on Saturday against Minnesota. He caught a 24-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass late in the first half and made some more catches in the second half to help the Wolverines pull away and beat the Golden Gophers 42-13.
Funchess had a total of just eight catches for 145 yards and a score in Michigan's first four games, and insisted he was patient while waiting to produce in ways that would show up in the box score.
"I just wait until my number gets called," he said. "And then once it gets called, I just try to make the big play to try to help the team so we can ultimately get to the Big Ten championship."
The Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) can take another step toward their quest to win a conference championship for the first time in 2004 by beating Penn State (3-2, 0-1) on the road Saturday, a week after the Nittany Lions lost by 20 points at Indiana.
Michigan moved up one spot, to No. 18, on Sunday in The Associated Press college football poll.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Funchess seems suited to be a go-to target for Devin Gardner. He completed more than half of his passes against Minnesota to Funchess as part of a game plan that included a lot of handoffs to running backs in the hopes of cutting down turnovers.
Gardner, though, wasn't sure throwing to Funchess so often was a sign of things to come.
"Whatever the offense needs," Gardner said. "If it calls for me to throw it to Devin Funchess 17 times in a game or to Jeremy Gallon 17 times or for me to throw 17 passes in total.
"Whatever we need during that day, on that given day, we're going to do it."
Michigan is listed as a tight end, but is versatile enough that he can line up in the slot or out wide as he did at times against the Gophers.
"We obviously planned it that way," coach Brady Hoke said. "Getting him out on the perimeter is a little bit is mismatch in a lot of ways because he runs awfully well. He's a big target."
Funchess got off to a fantastic start as a freshman last season with four receptions for 106 yards and a score in his debut, helping Michigan beat Air Force 31-25. He caught four more TD passes the rest of the season, but didn't have more than two receptions or more than 34 yards receiving in any game the rest of the year. And this season, until Saturday, he was averaging just two receptions and 36 yards receiving over four games with one score that ended up being very important in a four-point win against Akron.
Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint said Funchess can help him run and Gardner pass if he's a player defenses have to worry about again.
"It definitely makes it easier, knowing he can do stuff with his hands and with his feet," Toussaint said. "He's just incredible, so it takes a lot of pressure off of a few people."
"It's going to help our team overall as a balanced and effective offense," he said.
Michigan cornerback Blake Countess knows how difficult it is to defend Funchess because he sees teammates try to do it in practice.
"Funchess is just an athlete," Countess said. "You see flashes of that when he's at tight end, but you can really see it on the perimeter. He's faster than you think, and he can really go up and get the ball. He creates a lot of mismatches out there."
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage