Dotson Erupts, Penn State Caps Off Season with Fourth Straight Win
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From the initial 12 seconds of the game, Saturday’s matchup between Penn State and Illinois had the looks of a track meet.
Jahan Dotson caught a pass from Sean Clifford on a simple 10-yard curl route and took it 75 yards for Penn State’s first of eight touchdowns in a 56-21 rout of Illinois. While Clifford’s pass was on the money, he praised Dotson’s playmaking abilities on a career day.
“It just makes life a lot easier when you can throw a hitch and it goes 75 yards,” Clifford said. “I didn’t do anything for that. I just took what the defense gave me.”
But Illinois quickly fired back before Dotson could continue racking up yards and catches in arguably his best game as a Nittany Lion. The Fighting Illini piled on 21 points in the first quarter on a pair of Isaiah Williams touchdown passes sandwiched around an end zone plunge from running back Chase Brown.
Senior safety Lamont Wade returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and quarterback Will Levis found the end zone on a fourth-down running play for the Nittany Lions. Still, Illinois totaled nearly 200 yards of offense in the opening 15 minutes of the game, matching Penn State blow for blow with the game knotted up at 21 apiece entering the second quarter.
Yet after a prosperous opening frame, Illinois’ offense accrued just 74 more yards the rest of the way.
Linebacker Brandon Smith, who led Penn State with eight tackles and three for loss, said there was not a defining moment where the defense felt it needed to stand up. Instead, it was a collective mentality change.
“We got hit in the mouth, and then we kind of fell apart a little bit and realized, ‘OK, some things need to be changed,’” Smith said. “The mindset that we had was, ‘Enough was enough and we’re not going to take this anymore.’”
While the Fighting Illini offense turned dormant in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions kept churning. A 50-yard punt return by Dotson gave the Nittany Lions optimal field position before Caziah Holmes recorded the first score of his young Penn State career on a 9-yard rushing touchdown.
Its next offensive possession, Penn State produced a 15 play, 91-yard drive capped off by a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Keyvone Lee. On the proceeding series, the Nittany Lions found paydirt once again with another one-play drive, when Dotson took a pass from Clifford to the house, this time for 70 yards.
By halftime, Dotson had accumulated five catches for 183 yards—a career high—and two touchdowns with Penn State leading 42-21.
“My confidence is at an all-time high right now,” Dotson said. “Every time I touch the ball, I just want to take it to the house. That’s pretty much my mentality when I’m on the field—any chance, any opportunity I get, just leave your mark.”
After being named third team All-Big Ten by both the media and coaches, Dotson said he was motivated this week to perform well in what would turn out to be Penn State’s final game of the season.
“Anytime someone’s in front of me on anything, I want to get better and prove to people that I’m one of the best in the country,” Dotson said.
The Nittany Lions’ offense grew stagnant in the final 30 minutes but still crossed the goal line twice more on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Levis to tight end Brenton Strange and another scoring run by Holmes. Meanwhile, the defense pitched a second half shutout, as Penn State put the game out of reach.
Head coach James Franklin said he appreciated the team’s resiliency to battle back from an 0-5 start to win its last four games of the season. He also lauded the team’s following of safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Penn State was one of two Big Ten teams to play all nine of its scheduled games in 2020. Franklin said he was appreciative of the team’s ability to handle the pandemic “pretty well” and finish out the season on a positive note.
“I am very proud of everybody for battling through,” Franklin said. “It’s hard to do this under normal circumstances and even more now.”
Andrew Destin is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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