Penn State football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
Somehow college football made it. There were stretches when it seemed in doubt, but Alabama bludgeoning Ohio State for a national championship had to make some Penn State fans smile.
Penn State may have not been playing in January, but with a 4-5 season in the rearview mirror, things are already looking up with the surprise returns of a few stars and the promising 2022 recruiting class. The 2020 season, no matter how disappointing, wasn’t short on incredible moments. These are my 10 favorites:
10. Jahan Dotson’s almost-game-winning touchdown vs. Indiana
A game that Penn State fans can’t forget soon enough nearly ended in dramatic fashion during regulation thanks to a junior receiver we weren’t sure would be able to carry the load of the offense.
Trailing 20-14 with 2:30 left in the season’s opening game, Sean Clifford connected with Dotson on a 60-yard heave to put the Nittany Lions ahead 21-20. Devyn Ford punched in another touchdown less than a minute later to seemingly put the game away, but Michael Penix had other plans.
Little did Penn State know that Dotson’s 4th-quarter touchdown was just a small window into the type of season he’d go on to have.
9. The turnover card
Speaking of the Indiana game, let’s not forget Penn State’s quick voyage into the turnover prop department.
Following a Stevie Scott fumble late in the 2nd quarter that was recovered by Lamont Wade, Penn State introduced the world to the first-ever turnover thank you card.
Turnover chains are lame. Penn State has a turnover Thank You card? pic.twitter.com/iBkRmITRi1
— Thomas Schlarp (@TSchlarp) October 24, 2020
Likely a casualty to the 0-5 start, it’s a shame that it was never seen again.
8. Will Levis can throw? Will Levis can throw!
Partly out of frustration, partly out of a need for some distraction from the season, Penn State media would have a small celebration whenever Levis — the No. 2 QB — would throw the ball.
Aside from Levis throwing passes against Nebraska when Clifford was benched and against Iowa in Levis’ first start, Levis had never thrown a pass in 2020 out of Penn State’s Falcon package. Any time Levis took the field, it was an automatic assumption that the backup QB would carry the ball for 3 yards.
Things finally changed against Michigan State, after 10 quarters and 27 straight rushes since his last pass against the Hawkeyes, when Levis finally threw a pass — to KeAndre Lambert-Smith. He would finish the game 3-of-3 for 54 yards, and the growing mob of Falcon-package haters subsided.
7. Pat Freiermuth joins Franklin on BTN
Following the news that the Big Ten was restarting its season weeks after canceling it, Franklin jumped on Big Ten Network to speak on his excitement about the upcoming season. He was quickly interrupted, however, by Freiermuth, who dispelled rumors that he was joining Micah Parsons and opting out of the season.
“I never opted out. I don’t know where those reports came from…I’m just excited to play football again for @PennStateFball.”
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) September 16, 2020
A season-ending injury prevented the tight end from having an encore performance of 2019, but he did finish as the program’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions by a tight end and has a shot to go in the first or second round of the NFL Draft.
6. Lamont Wade’s 100-yard kickoff return against Illinois
As a part of the strangest quarter of the season for Penn State, Wade added to the insanity by returning a James McCourt kickoff 100 yards for a score to put the Lions ahead of Indiana 14-7 just over 4 minutes into the game. It was part of a combined 42-point 1st-quarter barrage as Penn State went on to score a season-high 56 points in its season finale.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 19, 2020
This was only the second game of the season in which Wade was a kick returner for a special teams unit that otherwise had a fairly lackluster season. It was also the exclamation on a big day for the senior safety who celebrated his graduation just hours earlier.
5. 4th-and-1 stop against Michigan
Penn State clung to a 27-17 lead with a little less than 6 minutes remaining against an advancing Michigan team. The Lions were 0-5 and nothing had gone right to that point in the season.
The Wolverines were faced with a 4-and-1 from Penn State’s 37-yard line in need of a conversion to stay in the game. Michigan QB Joe Milton ran a quarterback sneak, but Ellis Brooks was there for the stop, and the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs. Penn State would run out the clock.
Penn State finally achieved its first victory of the season and never lost again. It was a great moment to see the players celebrate for the first time all year.
4. Franklin opens up about family after 0-3 start
This isn’t a favorite because of some exciting play or jaw-dropping, on-field spectacle, but rather because it was just a great reminder to put life in perspective.
Following Penn State losing to Maryland and dropping to 0-3, Franklin was asked how he was doing during his normal Tuesday press conference, but the coach went off course of his normal answer of “Good.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m good, ” Franklin said. “All things considered, again, blessed and good. But that’s probably not an honest answer. But I appreciate you asking.”
He went on to explain the difficulties of this season being away from his wife and daughters and the toll it was taking on him.
“I have not done a great job of managing my family being gone. I have not,” Franklin said. “They’re my fuel. I go home, they’re able to pour into me, and I’ve not done a great job of that.”
It was a rare opportunity for fans to kind of step back from the anger about an 0-3 start and realize that there are more important things in life than football. It ultimately led to a pretty positive reaction to Penn State opting out of a bowl game to end the season.
3. Trace McSorley throws a TD
No, he’s not a Nittany Lion anymore, but he’ll forever be a fan favorite.
On a Wednesday night game to finally wrap up Week 12 of the NFL, McSorley stepped in for an injured Robert Griffin III against the Steelers. On McSorley’s opening drive he completed just 1 of his first 5 passes for 7 yards, but magic would ensue on the following possession.
McSorley would complete a 7-yard touchdown to Marquise Brown to pull the Ravens within a score, and all of social media went crazy.
— NFL (@NFL) December 2, 2020
McSorley played one additional game for the Ravens two weeks later, going 1-of-4 for 13 yards before sustaining a season-ending injury.
2. Dotson’s 87-yard punt return to help win the Land Grant Trophy
An 87-yard punt return for a score in the 4th quarter to move Penn State out of reach for Michigan State was the icing on the cake for a stellar season from Dotson. At the time, the touchdown felt bittersweet because many believed he had played his way into an early exit for the NFL, but Dotson made the surprise announcement that he’ll be returning in 2021 for his senior season.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 12, 2020
1. Dotson’s highlight reel vs. Ohio State
While Penn State fans were introduced to Dotson the week before, the nation discovered his talents against the Buckeyes.
Hang these catches in the Louvre.
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson makes unbelievable one-handed catches ON CONSECUTIVE PLAYS vs Ohio State!
First, he had this grab for 37 yards: pic.twitter.com/UAnIcq7ARy
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) November 1, 2020
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 1, 2020