Ready for the champs

FSU football not taking reigning GLIAC champion 0-2 Ashland lightly

BIG RAPIDS — Suddenly, everything has changed for the Ashland Eagles.

Ferris State’s football team might not have expected this set of circumstances heading into its first Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference road contest against the surprisingly 0-2 Eagles on Saturday, but the Bulldogs are still expecting much of the same from a team that finished the regular season 11-0 in 2012.

DOWN THE SIDELINE: Ferris State junior receiver Jake Lampman (8) hauls in a catch near the sidelines during the Bulldogs’ 56-49 victory over Lake Erie last Saturday. The Bulldogs will face off against the reigning Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) champion Ashland Eagles on the road this Saturday. (Pioneer file photo)

DOWN THE SIDELINE: Ferris State junior receiver Jake Lampman (8) hauls in a catch near the sidelines during the Bulldogs’ 56-49 victory over Lake Erie last Saturday. The Bulldogs will face off against the reigning Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) champion Ashland Eagles on the road this Saturday. (Pioneer file photo)

The Eagles, who won the GLIAC South in 2012 with a perfect 10-0 mark, have stumbled out of the gates, beginning with a loss to Indianapolis, followed by a 34-22 defeat to GLIAC foe Wayne State last weekend, leaving the Eagles hungry for a victory heading into its first home contest of the season at 7 p.m. at Jack Miller Stadium in Ashland, Ohio.

That means Ferris State must combat the the potentially hostile environment and opponent that awaits by being prepared on both sides of the ball, head coach Tony Annese said.

“(Ashland) definitely has the talent,” he said of this year’s Eagles team. “I’m very concerned about the potency of their offense. They have the GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year and a two-year all-GLIAC linebacker on

defense. They have the makings of a lot of great personnel.”

While the Eagles return many of the players from last year’s successful squad, one significant loss has played a part in some of the early-season struggles for the team: 2012 GLIAC Player of the Year and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Taylor Housewright.

Housewright put on a clinic against the Bulldogs at Top Taggart Field last season, going 25-of-36 for 438 yards and four touchdowns. Housewright finished two yards shy of the school, single-game record of 440 passing yards in the 47-32 win over the Bulldogs.

Instead, FSU will potentially face a pair of freshmen under center including Austin Bruns, who has seen the majority of the snaps, and former Pittsburgh commitment and four-star recruit Tra’Von Chapman, who was dismissed from the Panthers team prior to his freshman season, transferring to Ashland.

Both possess talent, Annese said, but the lack of experience from the signal calling duo could lead to the Bulldogs putting more pressure on the quarterback position on Saturday.

“You want to put some pressure on them to make the plays and not let running back (Anthony Taylor) run it down your throat,” he said of the Eagles’ leading rusher with 41 carries for 323 yards. “It’s just about keeping the quarterback off balance and executing in your systems. They have a quarterback that came in late who gives them another option as a dual-threat, so we expect just about anything.”

The Eagles return nine starters from a team that established single-season records for points and total yards in 2012. The offensive line, paced by senior left tackle and first-team all-GLIAC selection Zach Vermillion, returns entirely.

Ashland has two proven commodities in the backfield with Taylor, who gained a team-high 1,198 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, also earning first-time all-league honors. Also returning is fellow junior Jordan McCune, who gained 928 yards, also scoring 13 times last season in the prolific backfield.

The Eagles have to replace their leading receiver from 2012 in Anthony Capasso, but return Eric Thompkins, who caught 53 passes for 638 yards and three scores last season.

“I know we want to stop their running game,” Annese said of the Ashland offense. “(Taylor) is one of the best players in the GLIAC, so we need to contain their run game and create turnovers.

“We also need to get off the field on third down (on defense),” he added. “Last week (Ashland) had a rough time with that on offense and we did (last week) from a defensive standpoint.”

The Bulldogs surrendered 364 yards on the ground last week against Lake Erie in a 56-49 shootout that evened FSU’s record at 1-1. Having to face a team with a dual-threat quarterback kept the FSU defense off balance.

That will make one of Annese and FSU’s biggest areas of emphasis — causing turnovers — a huge factor on Saturday. The Bulldogs got a pair of takeaways on two interceptions by cornerback AJ McEwen last week in his first season on defense after switching from wide receiver.

“I think it’s a big factor,” Annese said of the turnover battle. “We’ve had three interceptions this year, compared to a total of seven last season, which is amazing to me. We still need to get the ball on the ground and hit the quarterback from the blindside to get us going. To me, it’s critically important to get some turnovers.”

The FSU offense enters with seemingly few flaws, scoring 56 points and gaining 571 yards last week. Much of that credit, of course, was due to the performance put in by quarterback Jason Vander Laan, who has won multiple Division II national player of the week recognition for his 279-yard, seven total touchdown performance against the Storm.

Vander Laan has been even better on the ground this season after claiming GLIAC Freshman of the Year honors last season. The redshirt sophomore has picked up 379 yards, averaing 8.4 yards per carry to go with four scores. He’s also passed for 226 yards with four scores and just one interception.

But the Bulldogs still have more playmakers to reveal in the offense as the season progresses, Annese said.

“I still feel like we’ve got more weapons on the outside,” Annese said of the receiving corps. “We’re bringing along a couple of new guys there and it’s more of an assignment issue and knowing what they’re doing, executing the right route and so on. We also need to get the running game going with our running backs more. I think those things, also with (slot receiver) Dontae Ingraham getting more involved, could make us (more dynamic).”

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