When No. 4 Penn State takes on No. 3 Iowa this Saturday afternoon, it will be the first time since the 1960s that there is a Top 5 Big Ten matchup that doesn’t involve one of Ohio State or Michigan. It will also be the first Top 5 matchup to take place in Kinnick Stadium since 1985, and clearly, the first one of the historic Kirk Ferentz era.
So the stage is set for one of the all-time Big Ten affairs, and like any big time game, there will be big time moments made by big time players. As Penn State fans, we’ve seen some unbelievable performances just in the past couple seasons. Chris Godwin against USC in the Rose Bowl. Saquon Barkley against Iowa in 2017. Trace McSorley against Ohio State in 2018. Micah Parsons against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.
This Saturday, we all know who that “big time” player is going to be: enter Jahan Dotson.
Dotson has been spectacular the past two seasons, racking up 52 receptions, 884 yards, and eight touchdowns in the nine-game 2020 season, and now putting up 35 receptions, 446 yards, and six touchdowns in the young five-game of the 2021 season. He’s currently projected to finish the season with 91 receptions, 1,160 yards, and 15 touchdowns — just some stupidly elite numbers, even in the pass-happy game that college football has mostly become.
The funny thing is though: do Penn State fans understand how good Dotson is? Maybe it’s because his recruitment was a little bizarre, involving a NSD flip from UCLA. Maybe it’s because his first two seasons in Happy Valley were solid but unspectacular. Maybe it’s because he’s a quiet, unassuming 5-foot-11, 183-pound guy who looks more like a basketball or baseball player. Maybe it’s because his “breakout” season came during the worst stretch of Penn State games in 15 seasons. Whatever the reason is, it certainly feels like Dotson isn’t thought of along the other receiving greats, despite the fact that his numbers prove that it should be the case.
Regardless, while the numbers are certainly important, legacies are usually cemented beyond what the box score shows. When someone asks me what made Saquon Barkley or Trace McSorley “great”, I don’t immediately go to ESPN and pull up rushing yards or QBR. Instead, I think back to those tense moments of doubt during a game, and recall the belief they made me feel in Penn State. The “we have Trace/Saquon and the other team doesn’t” moments.
Were they always victorious? No, but that’s sports — and that’s the point I’m making about Dotson: Penn State may not win this Saturday, but I know that dude is going to show up and lay it all out there. To borrow a phrase from Marcus Allen, but Jahan Dotson is a dawg, and dawgs do dawg things. I mean, we saw firsthand last season just how badly this guy wants to win. In a season where it would have been very easy to pack it in, Dotson came to play every Saturday, and was obviously a major catalyst in turning that season around. A normally quiet guy with the media, Dotson didn’t mince words during the early season struggles, saying...
“We’re not a good football team right now. We’ve gotta have everyone 100 percent bought in, and we’ve gotta work. Monday is a day off. We’ve gotta see every guy in the building. Literally from top to bottom, we’ve gotta see every guy in the building. Just doing something to get better every single day. That’s where it’s gonna start. It’s gonna start tomorrow. We’ve gotta have everyone 100 percent bought in. We’re gonna see who really wants it. Who wants to be here, bought in. And if you don’t, there’s not time for that.”
Yeah, the touchdowns are great and all, but quotes like that are what will come to my mind when I think of Jahan Dotson. He’s someone who didn’t allow Penn State to quit even in the darkest of times, stayed loyal to Penn State, and now, he’s reaping the fruits of his labor: an All-American season, the No. 4 ranked team in all of college football, and on Saturday, a prime opportunity to show the country — and, still, Penn State fans — just how special he is.