In a year not shortened by a pandemic, Jahan Dotson would be on pace to post one of the greatest seasons by a Penn State receiver.
But it matters very little to him.
With the Nittany Lions 0-5 as they prepare to play at Michigan (2-3) Saturday at noon (TV-ABC, WEEU-AM/830), Dotson has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season.
“It just hasn’t even felt the same just because we haven’t gotten in the win column,” Dotson said. “I feel like it would be completely different if we had some wins on the board.”
It’s not because of Dotson. He ranks among the Big Ten receiving leaders in every category with 31 catches for 527 yards and six touchdowns, despite shaky play from quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis.
“Jahan has done a nice job,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He’s obviously been productive in games. His growth and maturity has been gradual ever since he arrived on campus and just continues to get better.
“He’s got a very steady approach. He doesn’t really get too high. He doesn’t really get too low. He’s just very Steady Eddie.”
Dotson, a 5-11, 182-pound junior from Nazareth, earned playing time and four starts as a freshman in 2018 because of his precise route running and his soft hands. Last year, he served as a complement to KJ Hamler and finished with 27 receptions for 488 yards and five touchdowns.
This year, he has answered any questions about who would become Penn State’s go-to wideout following Hamler’s departure to the NFL.
“I remember talking to his family as well as Jahan last year and in the offseason,” Franklin said, “about the things that he needed to do to keep growing. I see that from him. I’m very proud of Jahan.”
Dotson made four catches for 94 yards and one touchdown in the opener at Indiana. But he opened even more eyes when he caught eight passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State and Shaun Wade, regarded as the top cornerback in the Big Ten.
He made a spectacular one-handed grab for a 21-yard touchdown against the Buckeyes.
“That catch was unbelievable,” Penn State wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield said. “Even the one before that (for a 37-yard gain) was a pretty good goshdarn catch. My room knows we have a one-handed rule. You better come down with it if you go up with one hand.
“That was just a credit to him and his talent. He has large hands. He can palm the ball. It was a great catch.”
Dotson is starting alongside two freshmen, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith, at wide receiver and now a redshirt freshman tight end, Brenton Strange, because of the season-ending upper-body injury to preseason All-American Pat Freiermuth.
Without Freiermuth last week against Iowa, Dotson caught eight passes for 139 yards and one score.
“He opens the offense so that the defense plans for him and other guys get opportunities,” said Strange, who caught a touchdown pass. “I've been seeing Jahan do this for a while now, so I'm not really surprised by it.”
Quiet by nature, Dotson has accepted a larger leadership role. After an embarrassing 35-19 loss to Maryland, he said not enough of his teammates had 100% buy-in.
“I didn’t have a big leadership role last year,” he said. “I’m stepping into one this year. I’ve taken that full on. I’ve just been trying to get my receiver room to make every play possible.
“Our coach (Stubblefield) says we’re the match that starts the fire. We know we have to get on a roll early in a game. That’s been a big emphasis for us. I try to keep everyone’s head up and make sure we’re always ready for our moment.”
The Lions have plenty of concerns, but Dotson is not one of them.
“The exciting thing is, I still think there’s a lot left for improvement with him,” Franklin said. “But I do think he’s a pretty good example to the younger players in his approach and his discipline and how he’s gone about his career so far at Penn State.”