Freshmen WRS make their mark
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State hopes Saturday will go down as the day its next era of receiving stars officially were unleashed.
Jahan Dotson led the Nittany Lions with 39 receiving yards in becoming the first true freshman to start at wideout for Penn State since Saeed Blacknall in 2014.
Another true freshman, Justin Shorter, saw his first extended action and hauled in his first career catch, a modest 3-yard throw to the flat from quarterback Trace Mcsorley.
Twelve of Mcsorley’s 19 completions against a Badgers defense, which entered the game 30th in the nation, went to five players with freshman eligibility.
“Jahan just continues to do some really good things, continues to get better,” head coach James Franklin raved after the game. “He just made some plays today. He’s very confident and very relaxed. The game doesn’t seem to be too big for him, and he has been that way, really, since day one.”
Franklin mentioned earlier in the week it had been difficult to get Dotson more playing time, because as well as he had been practicing, he was backing up perhaps the only consistent wideout Penn State has had all season, slot man K.J. Hamler.
However, in hopes of getting Dotson more involved, the coaching staff moved him to the Z receiver position, an outside spot where the Nittany Lions have needed help since Juwan Johnson left the Indiana game with an injury Oct. 20.
‘That creates some flexibility for us,” Franklin said. “We are always trying to recruit as many athletes as we can who are also smart guys, on and off the field. That allows us to have some position flexibility and move guys around to give ourselves the best 11 guys on the field, or the best three receivers on the field.”
Dotson’s redshirt has been burned, but Penn State still has a chance to escape the season with four years of eligibility remaining for two similarly well-thought-of prospects at the position, Shorter and true freshman Daniel George.
With Shorter playing Saturday, both have appeared in two of the four games they can play in and still keep the redshirt. Franklin said he wants those players available for a bowl game, which means Shorter and George can both appear in one of the final two regular-season games, or perhaps split them to maximize Penn State’s depth.
Shoe leather kid
Mcsorley went down with a second-quarter leg injury for the second consecutive game at Beaver Stadium. For the second straight time, he got back out there in the second half, throwing for an efficient 160 yards and a touchdown on 19 of passing.
“The more I keep going,” Mcsorley said of playing through some bumps and bruises, “the more I learn to know my body and know what it can take.”
Might be more to it than that, as far as Franklin is concerned.
“He’s a warrior; he really is, in every sense of the word,” he said. “He’s productive. He’s positive. He’s a leader. He’s determined. Obviously, he has gotten banged up the second half of the year and missed some plays, but he has come back and played at a pretty high level.”
Not what you want
Wouldn’t be a Saturday, it seems, if Penn State didn’t allow its opponent an opportunity to come back.
After forcing a stop to get the ball back with 3:51 left in the game, the Nittany Lions squandered a chance to finish on their own terms.
On second-and-12, with backup quarterback Tommy Stevens behind center with Mcsorley flanked wide, running back Miles Sanders went in motion. As he crossed in front of Stevens, center Michal Menet snapped the ball. Stevens and Sanders collided and the ball hit the turf, with Wisconsin recovering.
“As a head coach, that’s the thing you struggle with,” Franklin said. “You have a great win, and you want to enjoy the win, but the game didn’t end the way you want it to end.”
Getting his shot
Make it three now for Lake-lehman’s football program.
Freshman Kaleb Konigus, a Wyoming Valley Conference standout for the Black Knights in both wrestling and football during his career, made Penn State’s team through the walk-on tryouts and officially joined the roster Saturday.
Listed as a 6-foot-2, 300-pound offensive lineman, Konigus wore No. 59 against the Badgers.
Konigus won the PIAA District 2 heavyweight wrestling championship each of the last two seasons, and he became the third Lakelehman graduate on the current Nittany Lions roster, joining guard Connor Mcgovern and backup running back Nick Eury.
Penn State’s Jahan Dotson (5) runs after making a catch as Wisconsin’s Deron Harrell (8) gives chase Saturday.