COLLEGE PARK, Maryland– Bobby Engram won the first-ever Fred Biletnikoff Award for college football’s best receiver when he was at Penn State. Kenny Jackson, O.J. McDuffie and Allen Robinson were first-team all-Americans. Most recently, Chris Godwin has been an All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Penn State has had some quality wide receivers. None of them accomplished what Jahan Dotson did Saturday in Maryland.
The senior stud caught 11 passes for a school-record 242 yards and three touchdowns, leading Penn State to a 31-14 win over the Terps that snapped a three-game losing streak and made the Nittany Lions bowl eligible.
“He wants the ball in his hands,” quarterback Sean Clifford, who threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns– all to Dotson– said, “and that’s something we worked all offseason on getting the ball to him as much as possible. It’s awesome that he had as many yards today as he did.”
“I’m not surprised at all by what he did tonight,” head coach James Franklin said. “He’s got a very bright future, and I’m a big fan.”
On this day, Dotson, playing before his parents, grandfather and about 20 friends and family members, was, in his words, “a kid out there having fun.”
”(I’m) playing the game that I love,” Dotson said. “Games like this are special. A lot of my family was here today– a lot of them seeing me play for the first time. It was a special night all around.”
It took a few drives for Dotson or anybody else on Penn State’s offense to get moving. After going three and out in each of its first two possessions, Penn State’s offense came alive on drive No. 3, going 75 yards on four plays in just 1:33 to draw first blood. Two plays after Clifford hit KeAndre Lambert-Smith for 30 yards, he finished the drive with a 38-yard strike to a wide-open Dotson for touchdown No. 1.
Dotson and the Lions would have to wait a while to score again. Penn State didn’t score on its next three possessions, and went into halftime just up 7-6.
“I thought that we left a lot of points up on the board in the first half,” Clifford said. “Just because we had opportunities we didn’t convert. Myself, a bunch of guys… we didn’t make big plays in the first half.”
Big plays came in the second half.
After Maryland punter Anthony Pecorella’s boot put Penn State at its 5-yard line, the Lions drove 95 yards on their first second-half possession to make it 14-6. Clifford hit Dotson again, this time from 21.
Things looked dark for Penn State when Maryland tied it and darker still when Maryland’s Greg Rose sacked Clifford for an eight-yard loss to start the ensuing possession.
Then, the biggest play of the biggest performance of Jahan Dotson’s college career put Penn State back in front. On 2nd and 18, Clifford hit Dotson for the third time, this one from 86 yards, and the Nittany Lions were back ahead.
“It was honestly just a great call,” Dotson said. Basically a coverage beater. It was a great play call on (offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s) part. We just executed. Sean put it right where it needed to be.”
Franklin said that Dotson was able to take advantage of Maryland’s defensive scheme. “They were playing very aggressive man coverage, either cover 1 or cover 0, but we knew if we got the ball in his hands, he could make those type of plays. He’s really done it his entire career.”
“If he could get the ball every play, he would,” Clifford said. “That’s just the guy he is. He wants the ball in his hands because he knows the talent that he brings to this team. I want the ball in his hands as much as possible. He’s a great player.”
That played changed the whole game. Maryland wouldn’t score the rest of the evening. Jordan Stout hit a 24-yard field goal with 6:33 left to put the Lions up by two scores, and Brown’s pick-six with 2:39 left sealed it.
For Dotson, the best part of the evening was that he had the best game of his career in front of his blood.
“That’s what makes me go so much harder,” Dotson said. “My family, they support me through everything… they’re like my rock. My parents, they’ve sacrificed so much for me. To do what I did today (in front of them) was huge.”
Dotson is making the most of his decision to come back to Penn State. Franklin is happy to have him around.
“I’m super proud of not only Jahan Dotson on the football field but the type of young man he is,” Franklin said. “How his parents raised him, the type of student he is. He’s the perfect representation of what we want to be at Penn State.”