It was a too-familiar sight from a tumultuous season. Once again, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a double-digit hole at the half against a team they should be soundly defeating, this time down 21-10 to Michigan State, who stood at 2-4 and coming off a 52-12 spanking to a depleted Ohio State squad. It was similar to lethargic first halves against Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska and Iowa - all resulting in losses as the Nittany Lions just couldn’t quite fight and claw their way back.
Things would need to go differently this time to escape the familiar fate - and Jahan Dotson was more than ready to lead the charge in a fantastic second half effort by Penn State.
The Spartans were able to limit Dotson in the first half, holding him to three catches for 26 yards. But the dam was going to burst in the second half, and there was nothing they could do about it.
On the opening drive of the second half, Dotson had two 12-yard receptions to keep the chains moving, which ultimately ended with an eight-yard strike to Parker Washington in the end zone. Then came a crucial moment. Penn State opted to go for two to pull within three points of the Spartans. It seemed like a terrible decision at the time. There was way too much time left, especially considering the Nittany Lions red zone woes could cost them a point. It could also hand the momentum right back to Michigan State.
But it turned out to be the right decision when you have Dotson on your side. The junior receiver knew where to find the soft spot in coverage, then used his sure hands to catch a bullet from Sean Clifford. Just like that, Penn State was right back in it.
Two drives later, Dotson got things going with a 33-yard reception to help Penn State eventually regain the lead. The next drive saw Dotson catch a pass on second down to once again move the chains. On the very next play, Clifford found Washington again for a 49-yard touchdown strike as Penn State went up by eight.
Then it happened. Penn State’s amped up defense forced a three-and-out, and Dotson went back deep to field a punt. He could have easily played it safe with a fair catch or just getting out of the way, as the Nittany Lions clung to a lead in the fourth quarter. But that’s not Dotson’s style. He took the ball, made the first man miss, then shook off another tackler, and then was off to the races. It was the nail in the coffin as Penn State led a remarkable second half turnaround on their way to their third win in a row.
As Dotson returned to the sideline, he was hoisted in the air by his teammates. Refusing to let the moment pass so quickly, Dotson was passed along by teammates up and down the sideline as others came up to him to join the celebration. It was the most joyous sight of a tumultuous 2020 Penn State Football season, and something that brought a much-needed smile to every Nittany Lion near and far.
Dotson ended the day with eight receptions for 108 yards, with 82 of those yards coming after halftime as Penn State dominated with 29-3 second half performance. His electric punt return score led him to being named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
WR Parker Washington - As noted above, Washington played a huge role in the Nittany Lions comeback. He contributed four catches for 95 yards and two scores as he continues his exceptional true freshman season.
S Jaquan Brisker - Brisker seems to have turned a corner in the last few weeks, and offered a masterful Senior Day performance. Brisker was a huge reason the Spartans offense faltered throughout the second half. He led the team with nine tackles, produced 1.5 TFLs and was credited for two quarterback hurries.
DE Shane Simmons - With Jayson Oweh on the sidelines, Simmons made the most of his Senior Day, finishing with 1.5 sacks, 2 TFLs, a pass breakup and tied for second on the team with seven tackles.
QB Sean Clifford - After a disastrous start to the season that ultimately saw him being benched for the Iowa game, Clifford has cleaned up his game and offered another strong performance. He finished 17 of 27 for 232 passing yards, with three total touchdowns and once again, no turnovers.