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'Plays Like That Haunt Me'

Penn State's Jahan Dotson just missed an overtime touchdown catch against Illinois.  So he went home and practiced it.

Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson watched film for three hours Monday, then went home and practiced the over-the-shoulder catch he couldn't quite make against Illinois in overtime.

Dotson's roommate, defensive end Jesse Luketa, threw him passes outside their house like the one Sean Clifford made in the first overtime. Had Dotson caught it ("Very close," he said), he believes Penn State would have won the game.

Instead, the Lions fell to Illinois 20-18 in nine overtimes, and Dotson added another play to his training loop.

"Plays like that haunt me," Dotson said during a media session this week. "I'm really good with kind of moving on to the next play, making the most of the next opportunity. But plays like that, when you don't get a second chance at it, plays like that kind of really stick with me, make me want to go even harder."

Dotson heads to Ohio State on Saturday determined to repeat, or better, the game he had against the Buckeyes in 2020. The receiver caught eight passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns, a very loud performance in a quiet Beaver Stadium. It remains the peak night of Dotson's career, a game he won't forget and has studied from every angle.

"That was probably one of the best games of my career game that I'll never forget," Dotson said. "To be honest, I'm trying to do the same this year, if not even better."

Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson makes one of his three touchdown catches against Ohio State in 2020. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)

Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson makes one of his three touchdown catches against Ohio State in 2020. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)

Which is why Dotson spent three hours Monday night, the team's day off, studying film of Ohio State's defense, learning its personnel, coverages and tendencies. Luketa watched film alongside Dotson, then went home and threw passes to him.

Dotson, who leads the Big Ten with 49 catches, made one truly exceptional play against Illinois. He outworked three defenders to land a 36-yard reception on a Sean Clifford pass that should have been intercepted. The play set up Penn State's only touchdown of the game.

But Dotson spent more time laboring over the play he could have made in Penn State's second overtime. The throw might have been Clifford's best of the day, a perfectly floated ball to the back of the end zone.

It was a difficult catch — tightly spaced in the end-zone corner, with good coverage from Illinois' Devon Witherspoon — but it's also was the type of play Dotson expects to make in his fourth season.

Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson attempts to make a catch in overtime while Illinois' Devon Witherspoon defends. (Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports)

Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson attempts to make a catch in overtime while Illinois' Devon Witherspoon defends. (Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports)

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According to Sports Info Solutions, the Pennsylvania-based analytics firm, the play marked Dotson's first drop in 78 targets this season. Prior to Saturday, Dotson was the only Big Ten receiver with at least 40 catches without a drop. That sent him and Luketa to work.

"I was literally outside of my house [Monday], just throwing the football literally with Jesse Luketa, working on that catch," Dotson said. "Same exact catch. So I know that I was that close to kind of ending the game in a sense, but I can't do anything about it now. The game's over. All I can do is fix my mistakes."

Franklin has marveled at Dotson's ability to make difficult catches look easy since the receiver's freshman year. This year, Franklin said, Dotson has demonstrated more strength, particularly in making contested catches, as well as increased fluency in reading coverages.

"He's made so many big plays for us," Franklin said, "and I've always been a big believer as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator that, when you have guys like that, you get the ball into their hands as many times as you can."

Dotson's impact has been mitigated the past two games, largely a byproduct of Clifford's health. Dotson has just 117 receiving yards and no touchdowns in those games. He led the Big Ten in touchdown receptions (six) after five games.

Franklin said that he expects Clifford to be "100 percent" for Saturday's game at Ohio State, which would be a dramatic change from the loss to Illinois. If so, it would help Dotson significantly.

Further, Dotson said he expects Penn State to play a more physical game than it did against the Illini. In fact, he's seeing to it.

"I can be a more vocal leader on the field," Dotson said. "If I see a rep in practice that’s not [done] perfectly how we want it, I can get on the guys and tell the coach we need to do the rep again. Those are the little things that I need to do as a leader and that we need to do as an offense. Just hold people accountable. And that's what we're going to do going forward."

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