As awards season approaches (are those still a thing in 2021??), we hand out some accolades from Penn State’s roller-coaster of a season in 2020.
Offensive MVP: Jahan Dotson, WR
There is absolutely no question here. Dotson took a star turn in 2020, becoming an explosive threat to score with each touch - whether it be a deep pass downfield, a simple screen or a punt return where he has to find his own path to the end zone. He gave the offense a chance as it struggled to find consistency during the horrific 0-5 start, and offered the leadership to help develop the younger receivers and keep the team fighting for a satisfying finish to the season. Thankfully, Dotson will be back in 2021 to add to his rapidly expanding highlight reel.
Defensive MVP: Shaka Toney, DE
It was a strange year for the Penn State defense. It started with a Micah Parsons-sized hole after their uber-star decided to forgo the season. There were several talented, albeit unseasoned, players trying to learn on the fly without much of an offseason. There were also times when the defense probably did not get the credit deserved after opponents yielded score after score off of turnovers.
Fortunately, the defense was able to rely on senior Shaka Toney, who has played a key role since 2017. Toney led the team with five sacks, and was second with 7.5 TFLs, just behind the 8.0 posted by linebacker Brandon Smith (who seems like a sensible choice for next year’s award after showing rapid improvement in the last few games of the season). Toney is now preparing for the NFL Draft, and looking forward to playing on Sundays starting this fall.
Special Teams MVP: Jahan Dotson, PR
Dotson made the most of the eight punt returns he attempted, averaging nearly 25 yards a pop and one of the best return touchdowns ever seen by a Nittany Lion (more on that later). He may have even fewer attempts next season as opponents willingly give up field position just to keep the ball out of the ever-dangerous #5.
Most Improved: Jaquan Brisker, S
Brisker started the season as one of the question marks at safety. The former JUCO transfer spent his second season in Happy Valley gradually improving his game, and by season’s end, he could simply not be missed. Brisker seemed to be everywhere on defense, always around the ball and impacting plays as the Nittany Lions found their footing to end the year on a four-game winning streak. Brisker decided to come back to Happy Valley for one last ride, and 2021 could see him make a statement as one of the nation’s top safeties as he works his way up draft boards toward a bright NFL future.
Newcomer of the Year: Parker Washington, WR
Penn State absolutely needed production from its newcomers at wide receiver, and boy did Washington deliver. He looked far more experienced than a true freshman, becoming a reliable part of the offense that could deliver plays when needed. He finished the season with 36 catches for 489 yards and six scores, and will now look to develop into yet another standout at wide receiver to follow in the steps of Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Dotson and many recent greats to catch passes in Happy Valley.
Coach of the Year: Taylor Stubblefield, wide receivers coach
Heading into the season, it appeared the wide receiver group was in deep trouble with almost no experience outside of Dotson. However, the addition of Stubblefield to the staff saw an immediate return on investment. Over the offseason, Dotson went from a reliable target to outright superstar, Washington looked like someone who had a few years under his belt rather than a true freshman, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith showed promise in his first season in Happy Valley. Overall, it appears the wide receiver group is set to be a strength for at least the next few years.
Best Game: Michigan
The team had better performances against Rutgers and Illinois, but going into the Big House for the first win of the season proved special. Penn State had not won in Ann Arbor since 2010, so it took on extra special meaning when the team finally got one in the win column against the hated Wolverines. This game featured a clock-churning drive after Michigan pulled within a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions up for good, finally securing its first win of 2020. Most importantly, it gave the team the confidence that is desperately needed to finish the season on a four-game winning streak and provide some momentum heading into 2021.
Worst Game: Maryland
I stated this was the worst loss of the James Franklin era immediately following the game, and I still feel that way. The team came in completely unprepared and a listless performance allowed Maryland to jump out to a 35-7 lead by the third quarter. Penn State was able to make it somewhat interesting toward the end, but getting pounded at home by a team that should not pose much of a problem was a new low. Fortunately the team was able to eventually turn things around, but this game suggested the team was doomed for a winless season.
Best Moment: Dotson Carries the Nittany Lions, the Nittany Lions Carry Him Back
It felt like the moment where the team found itself after stumbling into the 0-5 start. At the very least, it’s the one happy memory I’ll carry with me from the 2020 season.
Dotson created a brilliant 81-yard punt return score to seal the victory against Michigan State. It was a remarkable play, where Dotson essentially picked his way and then outraced the Spartans coverage team all on his own. His teammates showered him with appreciation by literally hoisting Dotson up in the air and giving him the hero treatment he deserved by carrying him up and down the sideline.
Best Play: Jahan Dotson Introduces Himself to the World
Is this even a question? Dotson delivered one of the most jaw-dropping plays in program history, against a projected first round pick to boot.
Congratulations to all of the winners, who have been awarded 10,000 BSD bucks (worth approximately 87,813.27 Stanley nickels) in recognition of their accomplishments.