Last Saturday, Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson torched Maryland for a program-record 242 yards on 11 receptions, including three touchdowns. The week before, not even Ohio State could limit Dotson to less than 10 catches or 100 yards.
Now, it’s the sixth-ranked Michigan football team’s turn to try to stop the Nittany Lions’ star wideout. As the Wolverines prepare to take the field in State College on Saturday afternoon, containing Dotson has become a top priority.
Penn State, on the other hand, is doing everything in its power to prevent that.
“Each week, our plan is to get Jahan Dotson as many touches as possible, like you’ve got to do with your best player,” Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters Saturday. “He came through for us time and time again.”
This isn’t the first time Dotson’s name has been at the top of Michigan’s scouting report — or any team’s, for that matter. As a junior last fall, he topped the Big Ten in receiving yards (884) and hauled in the third-most catches in the conference (52), making him the fourth-most explosive player in the conference on a yards per reception basis.
Additionally, Dotson led the Big Ten in catches of 20-plus yards (15) and tied for the national lead with four grabs of 60-plus yards. He’s also shown an ability to rise to the occasion against elite competition, tallying 271 yards on 19 catches and three touchdowns in his last two games against the Buckeyes.
Against Michigan, however, Dotson has never found the end zone or eclipsed 40 receiving yards in one game. The Wolverines hope to keep it that way on Saturday.
“He’s a good receiver,” junior nickel corner Dax Hill said Tuesday. “Quick, shifty guy. All of them are pretty good receivers. (Stopping them) starts with practice, practicing like it’s a game, doing whatever we can to stop their passing game. That’s one of their strengths of the offense, the passing game, having good receivers. We really want to stop the passing this week.”
Dotson’s success is rooted in his strong rapport with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford. Now in his third year as the Nittany Lions’ starter, Clifford has established himself as a seasoned vet. And after sustaining an injury in early October and missing a game, he once again looks healthy.
So far this season, Clifford is the third-leading passer in the Big Ten, and Dotson is his favorite target.
“(Clifford) is the point guard. He distributes the ball really well,” Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said Wednesday. “It’s a numbers game in a lot of aspects, and he understands when you’re light, when you’ve got too many people in a certain direction, then he can make you pay. They drop back more so than anybody we’ve seen, so they’ve got a good package for him. He reads it well, gets it out on time.”
The Wolverines haven’t won at Penn State since 2015 — the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era. In the two meetings at Beaver Stadium since, they’ve surrendered a combined 60 points.
But since Macdonald’s arrival, Michigan’s secondary has taken a major step forward. The Wolverines have the conference’s third-best scoring defense in 2021, and while the dominant pass rush gets the most attention, the anchor has been consistent defensive back play.
On Saturday, Penn State will put that to the test.