UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — True freshmen have made an impact in all three phases of the game for Penn State this season. Kicker Jake Pinegar was vitally important in a victory over Iowa, linebacker Micah Parsons is the Nittany Lions’ tackles leader, and, lately, receiver Jahan Dotson has been called upon to help enhance a sputtering pass attack.
The Nazareth (Pa.) product is well on his way toward becoming a key component, and he’ll start Saturday vs. Wisconsin.
“The reality is he’s a playmaker,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “And I’m not talking about huge explosive plays. He just consistently makes plays when the ball is thrown to him. That’s why we want to try to find a way to get him on the field.”
Dotson appeared in each of the last three contests, catching five passes — all resulting in a first down — with relatively limited snaps. He should burn redshirt status with a fifth game appearance Saturday, and on-field involvement certainly seems primed to trend upward.
“He came in and had a lot of ability right away in terms of just naturally being able to catch the ball and body control,” Franklin said. “At the wide receiver position, you hope that’s something they have. … It was obvious when he got here that he was a very fluid guy, a very smooth guy, and catching the ball just came very natural to him.”
Penn State cornerback John Reid has seen Dotson put in work on a daily basis, and he’s been impressed for months.
“Jahan is one of my favorite receivers since he got here,” Reid said. “He has a natural flow at receiver. He’s able to change his speed in routes, which a lot of guys don’t do coming out of high school.”
Dotson has worked out of the slot, where leading receiver KJ Hamler is a rising star in his redshirt freshman season.
Hamler has been a scintillating talent on offense and special teams. Along with freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth, he has been the most consistently productive pass target for quarterback Trace McSorley.
“That was a big part of the discussion of redshirting (Dotson), based on that discussion, there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said. “But the reality is, K.J can’t play every rep. He can’t play every single rep in the game. So we want to make sure that when he taps, that Jahan will be able to go in there and make some plays for us, and then that also allows us to move some other guys around, too, like (redshirt freshman) Mac Hippenhammer, who has done some good things for us, too. That’s going to be an important part of this week is kind of finding out what’s going to be the best lineup to get those guys on the field and give Trace as many options to make plays from as possible.”
The question now becomes how can Penn State get Dotson and Hamler on the field at the same time, and how soon?
“It’s something that we’re looking at,” Franklin said.
And it’s something to keep an eye on when Penn State kicks off against Wisconsin.