He broke off the line of scrimmage, sprinted 10 yards, cut in toward the hashmarks, then saw the pass heading his way.
He reached his hands up to catch the ball. Behind him, the cornerback assigned to cover him, Minnesota sophomore Benjamin St-Juste, slipped to the ground.
For Jahan Dotson, that was the moment. That was the time.
He was on the move, heading toward the end zone, looking to give Penn State something it never had last Saturday against the Golden Gophers, at the perfect time to get it.
The lead. A chance to snatch victory from a situation that seemed hopeless just minutes earlier.
“Those are the types of plays,” Dotson said, “you dream about having.”
The fact Penn State isn’t unbeaten today, that it’s preparing for a game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium on Saturday hoping it will get its season back on track, tells the end of the story. Dotson didn’t find the end zone on that long pass play. He sprinted upfield with safeties Jordan Howden and Antoine Winfield Jr. in pursuit, but hardly a guarantee to run him down.
Sensing he was a move away from assuring a Nittany Lions lead with just under two minutes to play, Dotson tried to plant, then cut to his left and upfield, ditching Howden – the safety with the best angle on him – in the process. But at the 15, his feet slipped out from under him on the slick TCF Bank Stadium turf. He stumbled and fell at the 11.
Penn State wouldn’t score. Three plays later, Howden picked off a pass from Clifford in the end zone to effectively end it.
Days later, as much as he has tried to get past it and focus on the Hoosiers, that slip still lurks in his mind.
“It’s frustrating looking back at those plays,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn from my mistakes and just trying to better myself every week so those things never happen again.”
Missed opportunities: The slip proved to be the latest in a string of missed opportunities for a young Penn State receiving crew still looking to find its feet in many ways.
Sophomore K.J. Hamler is among the fastest players in the Big Ten, and he’s coming off a 100-yard effort against the Gophers. But freshman Justin Shorter, once one of the better receiver prospects in the nation, dropped two passes, including a would-be touchdown. Speedster Dan Chisena had another well-thrown bomb from Clifford bounce off his hands, as well.
“We’ve got to be more consistent. There’s no doubt about it,” head coach James Franklin said. “KJ is obviously making plays and made some tough catches on Saturday. But we’ve got to be more consistent at that last position. But, that gets spread around. I mean, we’ve also missed some throws. We threw some balls into the ground. … We’ve got to find ways to get those guys involved in a little bit more early in games, as well. I think it’s all of it. But at the end of the day, when the ball comes, you’ve got to make the plays and we have all of the faith and confidence that we can do it and that they can do it.”
Confidence issues: Dotson said every receiver takes responsibility for helping the others get over the tough times. When some are having trouble making grabs, others will invite them to get some work with the Juggs machine at the practice field. When there are confidence issues, teammates build them up.
“It’s just keeping each other positive, just always trying to give positive advice, positive thoughts to each other,” Dotson said. “That’s the biggest thing. … If you have a good attitude, it translates to the field.
“I feel like this will save all of us, just getting back to work and putting that game in the back of your mind.”