Todd Blackledge and Jahan Dotson, two Penn State legends, sat for an interview last week. As they chatted, Blackledge told Dotson about a record he was approaching.
Dotson and quarterback Sean Clifford needed two touchdown passes to break the Penn State record for a quarterback-receiver duo held by Blackledge and Kenny Jackson. "Get the job done," Blackledge told Dotson.
Dotson and Clifford connected for a pair of touchdowns, their 17th and 18th, in Penn State's 24-0 victory over Indiana, breaking the Blackledge-Jackson mark that dated to 1982. Dotson and Clifford said they were humbled, and head coach James Franklin didn't even know about the record until after the game.
That Blackledge was in the broadcast booth for ABC made the moment even richer.
"We have played good football here for a long time," Franklin said. "A lot of quarterbacks, a lot of receivers. ... So when you can break a record or do something that's never been done here before, to me, it says something. That's a great stat. It's also really cool that we did it when Todd was here, so I think he'll probably look at it the same way."
Dotson, who leads the Big Ten in receptions (35) and touchdowns (six), returned to Penn State for moments like these. He wrote the word "legendary" in a notebook daily this past spring and said that he wants to have a season "that you guys will never forget."
He's doing that in concert with Clifford, with whom he has played for three seasons and has developed a rapport on and off the field. Their second score illustrated the bond.
Clifford had good protection against a four-man rush but didn't find an open receiver, so he began to run. But Clifford still kept his eyes up, something he's doing far better this season.
As Dotson worked across the field, Clifford drew a defender to his scramble, leaving Dotson alone on the sideline. The receiver turned an easy catch into a 30-yard touchdown, buffered by the late block of tight end Brenton Strange.
The play is part of their weekly scramble drill, one that Clifford and Dotson know by heart now.
"We literally preach it every single Sunday, go over it and practice every single week," Dotson said. "So just staying alive with him, making sure you keep your eyes on him while he's scrambling, we know he's gonna make a play, make the right decision."
Clifford is fortunate to have forged such a relationship with two receivers at Penn State. The quarterback has thrown half of his 52 career touchdown passes to two teammates: Dotson (18) and KJ Hamler (e8).
Clifford began his college career having already bonded with Hamler through the recruiting process. In fact, Hamler said in 2019 that "Cliff's the reason I'm here" at Penn State.
“Through the recruiting process, I wanted Cliff to be my quarterback,” Hamler said then. “We threw at camps. I’d say, ‘No, I’m going with Cliff,’ or I didn’t want to go with another quarterback. I wanted Cliff. Me and Cliff always tag-teamed every camp we went to. I said, ‘This could be a connection in the future.’”
During his sophomore year in 2019, Dotson watched how the two worked. Clifford said Hamler often called him at "ungodly hours" to throw slants in the team's indoor practice facility. Soon, Dotson did so as well, resuming their sessions as soon as they were permitted during the 2020 season.
"Obviously, KJ and I had a really good relationship, and KJ reaped the benefits of that," Clifford said. "Jahan, as he got older, saw that and he did the same thing. COVID obviously last year prevented some of that. But at the same time, me and Jahan have really good chemistry, and I’m proud of where he’s at and where this team’s at."
Dotson on Saturday became the 10th Penn State receiver to produce 2,000 receiving yards. With 2,021, he ranks seventh all-time in school history. He also ranks fourth in touchdown receptions (19, including one from Will Levis in 2019).
According to Sports Info Solutions, Dotson is one of four receivers nationally (and the only Big Ten receiver) to catch at least 30 passes without a drop. He's on pace to become just the second Penn State receiver to compile a 90-catch season (Allen Robinson set the record with 97 in 2013).
Clifford, meanwhile, has joined Trace McSorley as the only Penn State quarterbacks with at least 6,000 yards passing and 50 touchdowns. And Dotson said, they're far from finished.
"He has full trust in me now, and I have full trust in him," Dotson. "We're out there having fun. It's literally what we do every single day."