By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Devin Funchess returned to his roots to cement himself in Michigan football season-opening lore.
On a play-action post route, Funchess leaped for a jump ball thrown to the end zone. The 6-foot-5, 236 pound junior receiver had to use some former basketball skills to haul it in for his third catch touchdown on the day.
“I went back to my old basketball skills, went up for the rebound and pulled it away from him,” Funchess said.
Donning his newly anointed No. 1 jersey, Funchess exploded for 95 yards on seven catches in Michigan’s 52-14 season-opening rout over Appalachian State Saturday. He became the first receiver in Michigan history to grab three scores in a season opener.
The lanky receiver thrived against an Appalachian State defense that had no answer for his unique skill set of height and speed.
“I’m not really a normal wide receiver. 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, 236 (pounds), that’s what I was today,” Funchess said. “I felt like no one could match up with that size.”
Fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner went 13-for-14 passing for 174 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with Funchess on more than half of his completions, including all three scores through the air.
“As a football player or player in general, you have to bring swag to yourself,” Funchess said of Gardner’s improved efficiency and accuracy. “He brought that swag today and felt more comfortable with it, felt great today.”
No Jeremy Gallon? No problem.
Gardner connected with Funchess on more than half of his completions, including all three aerial touchdown strikes.
“He’s tall. He’s really fast,” Gardner said. “He runs a 4.30 (40-yard dash). He’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, so I wouldn’t want to guard him.”
Michigan’s special teams unit shined on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. Mike McCray went airborne to reach the football, and Ben Gedeon scooped it up and drove to the end zone.
On its first drive of the 2014 season, Michigan’s running game flashed its nightmarish performance from last fall. Sophomore Derrick Green gained three yards on four rushes and failed to overpower Appalachian State’s defense.
But the sophomore duo of Green and De’Veon Smith broke through quickly in Doug Nussmeier’s debut as offensive coordinator.
Smith bulldozed his way to 115 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, including a 61-yard run. Following his slow start, Green totaled 15 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown on bursting runs of 59 and 62 yards.
Green and Smith each topped 100 rushing yards, marking the first time two Michigan running backs did so since Oct. 27, 2007 vs. Minnesota.
“I think it’s huge for our football team and it’s huge for both those young men,” head coach Brady Hoke said. “They’re both big backs, but they’re different. As you notice, De’Veon, he would rather run you over than play tag or try and make you miss. Derrick has a combination of both.
“It was good to have those guys have success, and I think it speaks, again, to what the receivers did and the offense line did.”
Michigan’s highly-touted defense held Appalachian State to 280 yards. The Mountaineers struggled on third down with only five of 17 chances, but converted two of three fourth-down tries.
“It was a good start (defensively), but we didn’t finish how we planned to,” senior defensive end Frank Clark said. “I believe we may have given up 150 rushing yards and that is something as a defense that we can’t moving forward. We have to come together this week in practice and do what we need to do to get ready for Notre Dame.”
Michigan returns to action Sept. 6 in a road contest vs. Notre Dame. The game between the two teams is the final scheduled matchup in the longtime series.