Jahan Dotson proves to be bright spot during dark night for Penn State

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown reception Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade (24) watches during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Ohio State won 38-25. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Jahan Dotson ran down the field near the Ohio State sideline early in the fourth quarter of Penn State's loss to the Buckeyes. He reached the 10-yard line before he looked back with the ball already coming his way. With little time to react, Dotson stuck his hand up and slightly behind himself to impede the path of the ball.

Then it stuck.

The junior wide receiver hauled in the one-handed catch and glided into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

He went on to finish with eight catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns and was one of the few bright spots in an overall dark Halloween night that ended with a 38-25 loss for Penn State to the Buckeyes.

The catch didn't come as a surprise to Dotson, who works on making those catches. Just not during practice.

"I kind of have to practice that after practice," Dotson said following the loss. "The coaches prohibit that at practice. It's two hands every time you get an opportunity to catch the ball. I kind of practice that on the side. ... I got to show I was capable of doing it in a game today."

He believes the ball belongs to him: The practice may have set him up to execute on the play, but it was his mentality that gave him the confidence to do it.

Whenever he sees the ball go in the air — even in a difficult spot like his one-handed catch — he wants to make it his.

"If you want it, you go get," Dotson said. "Every time the ball is in the air it's a chance for you to make a name for yourself, for you to put the team on your back or whatever it is. I think of it, every time the ball is in the air it's a million dollars and we've got to go cash in. That's what I did today."

Saturday night's performance could be a launching point for Dotson. The one-handed catch will surely get all of the national attention, but he made another leaping catch on the play prior and found space to operate on the outside. Even if you take his two highlight-reel plays away, he was still the most dependable offensive player Penn State had on the field Saturday night.

Clifford's favorite target: He consistently created separation and made himself available to redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford when other receivers were unable to do the same. Clifford clearly liked what he saw from Dotson, targeting him 12 times on 30 passing attempts, seven more than any other player.

The junior wide receiver told his quarterback prior to the game that he was ready to have his back and show what he can do.

"Going into this week he told me, 'Bro, I got you, I want to make sure that you know I'm gonna give it my all. You know how hard we've been working,'" Clifford said. "I gave him some shots. And he made them. I was really proud of Jahan. ... I thought Jahan played well."

Confidence shines through: His confidence shined through and allowed the resulting display that is by far the best of Dotson's career as a Nittany Lion. He established how good he can be against one of the best teams in the nation and against some of the top cornerbacks in the nation — including projected first-round pick Shaun Wade.

It's one of the best performances of any Penn State receiver and recent years and one Dotson said he felt coming before kickoff.

His grandmother, Gloria Bigelow, passed away in April, and since her death he brings a shirt to games with her image on it. It was a conversation with her that let him know what was coming.

"Every week I bring a little T-shirt that's got her on it," he said. "And I just keep it with me. I talk to her before the game. I have a little conversation with her. She just let me know that the opportunity was there today and I've got to make the most of it. It's just crazy how God works."

Waiting for his chance: Dotson has spent three years waiting for that opportunity to come. As a true freshman in 2018, he was the team's fifth-leading receiver behind notable weapons like K.J. Hamler and Pat Freiermuth. In 2019, those two were the only receiving options that caught more passes than Dotson.

Now, just over two years into his Penn State career, he's quickly establishing himself as a top option alongside Freiermuth, with advice from his family paying dividends.

"My family is telling me to be patient all the time and that's what I've been doing," Dotson said. "It finally paid off."

Even with his experience — and his patience — Dotson wasn't the receiver getting the hype during the preseason. He was the known commodity, while the others offered more tantalizing upside. Instead, it's Dotson who has taken a step forward, while the rest of the Nittany Lion weapons play catch up.

The rest of the schedule will look easy compared to the game against the Buckeyes — and if his performance Saturday was any indication — Dotson could be in for an opportunity that's been over two years in the making.