GREG BUCKNER: Bulldogs living up to the hype

FSU football continues to impress in win over Grand Valley

In years past, a victory for the Ferris State football team against arch-rival Grand Valley State would be celebrated as a landmark event.

RIVALRY: Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) sheds Grand Valley State defenders on Saturday as the Bulldogs beat the Lakers, 42-17, at Top Taggart Field. (Pioneer photo/Brady Kenniston)

RIVALRY: Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) sheds Grand Valley State defenders on Saturday as the Bulldogs beat the Lakers, 42-17, at Top Taggart Field. (Pioneer photo/Brady Kenniston)

But following the Bulldogs’ third-straight victory against the Lakers on Saturday in the 2014 edition of the Anchor-Bone Classic at Top Taggart Field, a dominating 42-17 rout for FSU, there was a sense of “been there, done that” as Bulldog players like junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan gave their postgame interviews.

“The past three years, this is another team and we know we’re better than them and we have to prove it out on the field,” Vander Laan said of the Lakers just minutes after he sliced and diced the GVSU defense, going 19-of-28 for 215 yards, four touchdowns and an interception through the air in addition to 158 yards on the ground.

Vander Laan wasn’t being cocky or disrespectful. He was just stating the obvious to anyone who watched what unfolded Saturday in the Bulldogs’ home opener.

It was a sign that the Bulldogs truly believe in the talent they have, taking the next step from a team with potential to one that has the confidence to back it up.

The Bulldogs obviously respected their opponent and didn’t take the Lakers lightly at all, despite their 0-2 record coming into the matchup, but Saturday’s game proved to be another sign that the situation has changed not only between the Lakers and the Bulldogs, but atop the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) hierarchy.

The victory moved FSU to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the GLIAC and, so far, the team has backed up the hype it received coming into this season after just narrowly missing out on a playoff berth with an 8-3 overall record in 2013 and with the pieces the Bulldogs had coming back.

In his third year leading the Bulldogs, head coach Tony Annese has quickly helped the FSU program transform from a streaky one to one that is expected to be a key player for the GLIAC title year-in and year-out for the foreseeable future

The transformation began with the offense, which broke the school record for rushing yards in each of Annese’s first two years at the helm.

Now in year three, the FSU offense has started to reach its full potential as Vander Laan has made great strides in the passing game, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 617 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception through three games.

Add in 333 yards and two scores on the ground from the dual-threat quarterback, and you have the makings for one of the most potent offenses in the country, with FSU currently tied for eighth in the nation with 549 yards per game.

The depth of the FSU offense was evident Saturday night as Vander Laan adjusted to the loss of receivers Antonio Agurs and Dontae Ingraham to injuries, with sophomore receiver Shakur Sanders stepping up with three touchdowns and senior receiver Jake Lampman hauling in two scores.

Now you add in an FSU defense that stopped the Lakers on three-straight trips to the red zone in the fourth quarter and is currently holding teams to a 29 percent conversion rate on third down, and that makes for a team that can dominate in all facets of the game.

Things won’t be easy for the Bulldogs going forward, as they next face a Saginaw Valley State team they haven’t beaten since 2010.

But the Bulldogs have been able to ride the momentum of last season’s four-game winning streak to close out the year and are in a good position to take the reigns in the GLIAC because of the game-by-game approach they’ve taken this year, a mindset Annese said wasn’t present during his first two years on the job.

“We’re not focused on Grand Valley, we’re not focused on Saginaw Valley. We’re focused on ourselves; we’re focused on getting better,” he said. “My biggest criticism of the last two years is I don’t think we’ve had the mental capacity to be ready every week. I’ve got the instinct that this team is going to be ready every week.”

Annese talked about the approach to this season as if it were a ladder, focusing on a single step at a time and not looking too far into the future.

“Our whole deal is we have a picture of a ladder and we have 11 rungs with the team that we play,” he said. “We keep saying ‘If you miss a step, you fall.’”

If Saturday’s game is any indication, the Bulldogs might reach the top of that ladder sooner rather than later.

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