In win over Buffalo, Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson begins to hit his stride

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) hauls in a touchdown pass in front of Buffalo cornerback Aapri Washington (3) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Jahan Dotson waited, often impatiently, for his first touchdown at Penn State.

When it arrived Saturday night against Buffalo, the sophomore receiver said he felt a weight lifted and had another moment to share with his mom and dad.

“I thought about my parents,” Dotson said late Saturday night at Beaver Stadium. "As much as they put into that, I just wanted to get that for them."

Dotson, the Nazareth High graduate, caught two touchdown passes in Penn State’s 45-13 win over Buffalo. His scores bookended a strange night for the Lions, who looked off-kilter in the first half and in tune during the second.

Dotson punctuated Penn State’s 38-point second half with a double-move route that the offensive coaches waited all game to call. It’s a route Dotson ran hundreds of times this preseason with quarterback Sean Clifford, one that both were certain would produce a touchdown.

It’s also a route that Dotson admitted he probably wouldn’t have run so precisely last year. The cornerback probably wouldn’t have bitten on his first cut, leaving Clifford to throw the ball away. Dotson has spoken repeatedly about being “embarrassed” by his route-running as a freshman.

That’s no longer the case.

“Routes like that you dream about, because you know that one false move [in coverage] can be a touchdown,” Dotson said. "I practiced that route plenty of times in the offseason with Sean, and it was pretty cool to do it on Saturday."

A career night: Dotson caught four passes for a team- and career-high 109 yards, showcasing different skills on each. His first touchdown was a model of concentration, as he found Clifford’s short pass (“I should have thrown it farther,” Clifford said) amid end-zone traffic that included fellow receiver KJ Hamler.

His second touchdown catch, which covered 56 yards and came with 3:03 to play, was a model of route-running. Dotson also showed a delicate set of fingertips, racing under Clifford’s pass to make one of the best catches of his career.

Dotson said he “caressed" the pass.

“Please, just don’t drop it, don’t drop,” Dotson told himself on the play. “It looked like it would be too far, but I reached my arms out and caressed it in and was able to score.”

In addition, Dotson made a 19-yard reception in the third quarter that underscored his further offseason work. It was a simple out route against a cornerback, but this time Dotson broke the tackle and turned upfield for a big gain.

Getting more assertive: It’s a play Dotson made a focus of his offseason training, as he sought to become more assertive in breaking tackles. Penn State coach James Franklin has said several times since last season that Dotson’s 5-11, 175-pound body has to catch up to his ball skills and craft.

It’s beginning to do that.

“He is getting close to the point where he’s got a Big Ten body that we need him to have,” Franklin said. “But we need to keep plugging away in that area, because once he puts together a junior, senior and NFL body he’s got a chance to have a very bright future at Penn State and after that.”

Penn State receivers coach Gerad Parker said that Dotson “makes everyone smile” with his ability to make plays look so easy. He does that often in practice. Parker used the word “savvy” to describe Dotson.

“He has a high football IQ and really good feet at the line of scrimmage to create separation,” Parker said. “Throw that in with really good ball skills and the nature to compete for it in tight quarters, and you really have yourself a savvy football player.”

A freak: Dotson wants to be more than that. On tight end Pat Freiermuth’s 27-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, Dotson made an aggressive block downfield to spring the run’s finish. And when there’s a ball in sight, he now expects to get it.

Last week, defensive end Jayson Oweh called Dotson one of the offense’s biggest “freaks,” quite a statement considering some of Penn State’s offensive talent. Dotson was humbled but also confident about one thing.

“When the ball’s in the air," he said, “I feel like no one can get it but me.”