True freshmen review – Air Force
Written by Matt Pargoff   

Michigan’s 2012 recruiting class continues to play a major role in the Wolverines’ plan for the current season, with 11 true freshmen seeing action against Air Force. While four from the group were limited exclusively to special teams play, the remaining seven saw extensive work on the offense and defense. Read on for a complete breakdown of the performance of the youngsters.

LB Joe Bolden – While Funchess made the more memorable plays, it was actually Bolden who saw by far the most action of any true freshman in the game. He did not see the field during Air Force’s first two possessions; however, early in the second quarter, he stepped in for Kenny Demens at middle linebacker. He made a solo tackle on his first play of the game and was involved in the third down stop just two plays later. He returned for the next possession, once again making his presence known in a Falcons’ three-and-out.

After Denard Robinson’s interception at midfield, Demens returned to action, but that would be the veteran’s final action of the contest. Bolden took every defensive snap of the second half.

While it may be difficult to lob too much praise at any defensive player in a game where Michigan surrendered 290 rushing yards, the young freshman handled the situation well. He was involved in stopping Air Force’s faked field goal, which turned out to be a key play in the game. Bolden finished second on the squad in tackles, with 10 total stops. Six of his tackles were recorded as solo stops, which led all Wolverines.

TE Devin Funchess – Funchess entered the game for Michigan’s fourth offensive play and immediately made his presence known. Off a play action fake, the young freshman broke wide open, and caught Robinson’s quick pop pass for a 21 yard gain. He returned in the second quarter, pulling in a 29 yard reception off a wheel route.  Later on the same possession, he ran a post-corner route, and pulled in the underthrown lob for a 30 yard touchdown.

Other than Michigan’s final possession of first half, Funchess was used exclusively on pass plays. On that last possession he was present for a read option and stayed in to pass block once. The young tight end made his final reception of the day in the third quarter, on a play that was very similar to his second grab. Mike Kwiatkowski lined up as a “bastard tight end,” with Funchess inside him as a wing back. Kwiatkowski drew coverage to the inside, while Funchess slipped away from defenders, and his own shoe, on the wheel route. Showing excellent concentration, he tipped the ball up with one hand, before reeling it in for a 26 yard gain.

Ultimately, Kwiatkowski probably saw the most snaps of the tight ends. And fellow true freshman A.J. Williams was on the field far more than Funchess in the fourth quarter. However, for only being mixed in throughout the game, Funchess made a huge impact. His four grabs racked up 106 yards, making him the first Michigan tight end to have a 100-yard receiving effort since Jerame Tuman’s opening day performance against Colorado in 1997.

TE A.J. Williams – As noted, Williams saw extensive action in the fourth quarter; however, he was mixed into the game plan throughout the contest. He was used primarily as a blocker on running plays, and was involved on Robinson’s second long touchdown run, which took place at the start of second half. While right guard Patrick Omameh made the key block to allow the cutback, Williams and left guard Ricky Barnum combined to take Air Force’s middle linebacker out of the play, leaving a clear lane for the speedy signal caller to run through.

While Williams was soundly beat on one play in the first half, and had one second half play where he was late getting out of his stance, the young freshman had very solid showing as a blocker for the second week in a row. He was used mostly as a run blocker, but also stayed in to block on an occasional pass play.

Williams only went out for one pass during the game – the third quarter play that saw Devin Gardner pull in a touchdown reception. Michigan actually had all three of its healthy tight ends in on the formation, with Williams starting out on the right side of the line. He got hung up a bit on his release, but ran a shallow crossing pattern. He was beginning to break open just as Robinson threw the pass to Gardner.

LB James Ross III – While Ross saw the most action of any true freshman last week, he spent the first half of the game against Air Force watching from the sideline. Despite the slow inclusion into the defensive game plan, he saw extensive playing time in the second half, rotating with Desmond Morgan at the weakside linebacker spot.

First entering for the second defensive series of the third quarter, Ross made his presence immediately known, delivering a devastating shot to an opposing wide receiver that was attempting to block on a run play. Fellow freshman Ondre Pipkins made the tackle, but Ross’ crushing blow was responsible for disrupting the play.

While that may have been a highlight, Ross’ most significant contribution came much later. On Air Force’s second to last possession, he combined with Jibreel Black to defend an option play, bringing down running back Cody Getz for no gain on a fourth down run with four and half minutes remaining in the game. Ross finished the game with four tackles, including one solo stop.

DE Mario Ojemudia – Seeing action only at the end of the contest against Alabama, Ojemudia was actually the first true freshman to see non-special teams play against Air Force. He entered the game during the second defensive series of the game and was sporadically mixed into the lineup through the day.

While he did not have many opportunities to be involved in plays, the still undersized end looked extremely athletic, and had a few chances to show off very good speed in pursuing runs that went away from him. He finished the game with one solo tackle. That stop came early in the fourth quarter, when he held Falcons quarterback Conner Dietz to a one yard gain on the run.

DT Ondre Pipkins – Pipkins saw his first action at the same time as Ross, entering for the second defensive series of the third quarter. While he did not see as consistent play as his linebacker teammate, he was mixed into the game throughout the remainder of the second half.

He showed good quickness on a few occasions and had no trouble holding his own against the much smaller Air Force front line. For the game, Pipkins was credited with making two tackles.

S Jarrod Wilson – Wilson was fairly limited in participation on defense, with the Wolverines sticking primarily to four defensive back sets. Veterans Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon manned the two safety spots for the vast majority of the game, but Wilson did see some action in relief of Gordon late. He was credited with one solo tackle for a force out along the sidelines after a 14 yard run.

Seeing most of his action late in the game, Wilson was on the field for every play of Air Force’s final possession.

RB Dennis Norfleet – Standing in at just 5-7, 161 pounds, one aspect of Norfleet’s game when he was in high school that always stood out was that despite his size, he does not like to go down easy. The quick shifty runner was able to put some of that skill on display against Air Force as a kick returner. His 36 yard effort allowed the Wolverines to start on their own 42, while his 22 yard return placed Michigan on its own 34. He finished the game with three returns for 77 yards.

FB Sione Houma, WR Amara Darboh and LB Royce Jenkins-Stone – The trio of freshmen all saw action exclusively on special teams against Air Force. Darboh saw one play on offense against Alabama, while Houma and Jenkins-Stone have yet to see action outside of special teams play. Jenkins-Stone made a solo tackle on kick coverage while facing the Falcons.

Cornerback Terry Richardson played against Alabama, but did not see action against Air Force.


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