Like it has been for all Penn State players and coaches, moving on from the nine-overtime loss to Illinois has been difficult for receiver Jahan Dotson.
The thought that he couldn’t haul in a pass from Sean Clifford in the end zone in the first overtime has shaken the sure-handed Dotson.
“Oh, very close,” he said when asked about the throw on a fade route. “Plays like that haunt me. I’m really good with kind of moving on to the next play and making the most out of the next opportunity.
“But when you know you don’t get a second chance at it, plays like that really kind of stick with me and make me want to go even harder.”
Dotson has done that this week as the 20th-ranked Nittany Lions (2-2 Big Ten, 5-2) prepare to play No. 5 Ohio State (4-0, 6-1) at Ohio Stadium Saturday night at 7:30 (TV-ABC, WEEU-AM/830).
On Monday, with Dotson still thinking about what he considered a drop, he had defensive end Jesse Luketa, one of his roommates, throw the football to him outside their house.
“We were working on that catch, that same exact catch,” Dotson said. “I know I was that close to ending the game in a sense, but I can’t do anything about it now.
“The game’s over and all I can do is fix my mistakes and work on it in practice.”
Dotson’s receiving numbers were not glittering in consecutive losses to Illinois and Iowa primarily because of an unspecified injury to Penn State’s starting quarterback.
Sean Clifford left the Iowa game early in the second quarter and did not return. Backup Ta’Quan Roberson struggled mightily. Clifford played the entire game against Illinois, but he was clearly hampered and limited by his injury.
Dotson caught six passes for 58 yards against the Illini, including a 36-yarder on which he leaped between two defenders to make the play.
“Dotson’s one of the better wide receivers in the country,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We’ve got to know where he is at all times. They’re going to try to find ways to get him the ball, for sure. We have to know exactly where he is.”
Last year at Beaver Stadium, Dotson made eight catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes, including a couple spectacular receptions, in a 38-25 loss.
“That was probably one of the best games of my career, a game that I’ll never forget,” he said. “To be honest, I’m going to try to do the same this year, if not even better. That’s just the mindset that I was born and raised with, not even dwelling on the past, just trying to be better this week, trying to be better than I was last year and the year before that.”
The 5-11, 184-pound Dotson leads the Big Ten with 49 receptions, is tied for second with six touchdown catches and is fourth with 552 receiving yards.
NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN rates him as the 16th-best prospect in the 2022 draft and the third-best receiver.
“I’m really proud of Jahan and how he’s developed really in every area,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He’s come here and gotten more technical when it comes to his releases. He’s gotten stronger.
“He’s always had the ability to catch the ball. His ball skills are probably as good as I’ve been around, and that’s been the case really since his freshman year. He makes really difficult catches look easy.”
With Clifford’s health in question, it remains to be seen how it impacts Dotson’s production the rest of the year. Penn State still has to play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, all ranked in the top 10.
“It’s fairly simple,” Dotson said. “Ever since I’ve gotten here, Coach Franklin has really drilled in our heads about going 1-0. Me being in the program for four years now, that’s just something that’s engraved in my mind. That’s all I’m focused on right now, just going 1-0.”
Dotson, Clifford and other players have said they like how their team has responded in the days since the embarrassing 20-18 loss to Illinois. On Monday, a day off from practice, Lasch Building was filled with guys studying film and doing rehab, they said.
Dotson couldn’t wait until Sunday or Monday. He was so affected by the defeat that he went to work Saturday night not long after the game.
“I got home around 6:30,” he said. “I watched film for about three hours. Jesse said, ‘I was right there in the room next to you, literally watching film for four hours.’
“We got a lot of vets who have been in this position before, so we know what we need to do to bounce back. We’ve just got to keep our heads down, focus and work every day.”
Sign up for email newsletters
Missed catch motivates Penn State’s Jahan Dotson to work harder – Reading Eagle