|Tyler Lockett is the key to Kansas State’s passing game.
Starters: The diminutive fifth year senior Jeremy Gallon (5’8″, 184 lbs.) is the go-to guy, and he had an all-conference season with 80 catches, 1284 yards, and 9 touchdowns. He can be effective on just about any route – screens, hitches, square ins, fades, double moves, jump balls, etc. Aside from his lack of height (which he makes up for with his leaping ability and the timing of those leaps), he doesn’t have truly blazing speed, so he sometimes pulls away before getting tracked down in a foot race. The other starting wide receiver is sophomore Devin Funchess (6’5″, 235 lbs.), who made all-conference listed as a tight end but rarely plays it anymore; he has 47 catches for 727 yards and 6 scores. Funchess is Michigan’s bubble screen guy, leaps over tacklers sometimes, runs an occasional end around, and can beat teams deep. The de facto starting tight end is freshman Jake Butt (6’6″, 246 lbs.), who has come on late in the season to catch 17 balls for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns. Butt can do a little bit of everything between blocking, catching, and running.
Backups: Redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (6’3″, 196 lbs.) started a little bit early in the year before Funchess’s blocking became too big of a problem at tight end, and while Chesson’s playing time has dropped a little bit, he’s actually improved his route running and ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He has 13 catches for 213 yards and 1 touchdown. Senior Drew Dileo (5’10”, 180 lbs.) is the only other significant receiving threat, but he’s a possession guy who usually works over the middle. Occasionally, senior Jeremy Jackson (6’3″, 209 lbs.) or redshirt senior Joe Reynolds (6’1″, 196 lbs.) will pop up for a catch, but they’ve totaled just 10 catches for 140 yards and 0 scores this year. Sophomore A.J. Williams (6’6″, 265 lbs.) and redshirt junior Jordan Paskorz (6’3″, 255 lbs.) are the “blocking” tight ends that struggle to block, and while they’ll be on the field a fair amount, they have just 1 total catch.
Starters: The clear leader of the receiving corps is junior Tyler Lockett (5’11”, 175 lbs.), who has 71 catches for 1,146 yards and 8 touchdowns on the season. Lockett has made a lot of big catches for the Wildcats and can be a real threat to the secondary on deep routes. Fifth year senior Tramaine Thompson (5’8″, 167 lbs.) is also a big-play guy from the slot with 28 catches for 495 yards (17.7 yards/catch) and 5 touchdowns. Junior Curry Sexton (5’11”, 183 lbs.) is the other receiver in K-State’s three-wide attack, and he’s been more of a possession guy with 36 catches for 409 yards. Redshirt junior tight end Zach Trujillo is rarely targeted, but he has 5 catches for 111 yards and 1 touchdown.
Backups: Senior Torell Miller (6’3″, 213 lbs.) is a former safety who was expected to start this year in place of Sexton, but he’s been relegated to backup duty and 11 catches, 106 yards, and 1 touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Klein (6’4″, 210 lbs.) is a former defensive end who has 5 catches for 59 yards on the season. Fifth year senior Andre McDonald (6’8″, 278 lbs.) is a mammoth blocking tight end who has just 2 catches for 19 yards this season. It’s a very thin group of receivers.
Michigan has two guys who can be consistent deep threats, and another who has the speed to do so. Gallon has been outstanding this year and was one of the top couple receivers in the conference, while Funchess is simply a matchup nightmare. The other guys aren’t very scary, but Chesson, Dileo, and Butt can all be good secondary targets and move the chains. Meanwhile, Kansas State has a guy who can blow up in the form of Lockett, plus a somewhat dangerous slot guy in Thompson. In a couple closely contested shootouts against Big 12 opponents, Lockett has gone over 230 yards (237 against Texas, 278 against Oklahoma), and he’s the guy that quarterbacks Jake Waters and Daniel Sams will look to if things get rough. If the Wildcats can move the ball consistently on the ground, they’ll settle for trying to win the game without putting the ball in the air too much. Tight ends have hurt Michigan in a few games this year (Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman), but that shouldn’t be a persistent problem in this game. It’s a tall task to stop Lockett, but he’s the key to their passing game.