STATE COLLEGE — Jahan Dotson caught six passes, scored twice and racked up 239 all-purpose yards to lead Penn State to a 56-21 win over Illinois on Saturday.
The junior wideout opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown catch, added a 70-yarder in the second quarter and returned a punt 50 yards, taking it deep into Illinois territory to set up Penn State’s go-ahead touchdown before halftime.
Sean Clifford tossed both touchdowns and added 285 yards on 16-for-22 passing. Will Levis threw a touchdown pass to Brenton Strange and ran for one while Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee combined for three rushing scores in the Nittany Lions’ (4-5) fourth straight win.
This one came in the latest game ever played at Beaver Stadium with the sprawling, 107,000-seat facility blanketed in more than a foot of snow from lower decks to upper grandstands.
It looked like it would be a high-powered shootout from the get-go as neither defense showed up for the first quarter when the teams combined for 355 yards and 42 points.
After Dotson’s opening score, Illinois turned a Clifford fumble into its first points when Isaiah Williams found Brian Hightower for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
A minute later it was 14-all as Lamont Wade returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards and Illinois’s Chase Brown scored on a 12-yard touchdown run that capped a three-play drive opened with Williams’ 64-yard run deep into Penn State territory.
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The Illini (2-6) jumped ahead 21-14 when Williams tossed a 38-yard touchdown to Daniel Barker on their next possession. Will Levis added a 4-yard touchdown run that tied it at 21. Penn State’s special teams seized momentum moments later when Dotson opened the second quarter with a 50-yard punt return to the Illinois 10. It set up a 3-yard run from Holmes two plays later that put Penn State up 28-21.
The Nittany Lions tightened up on defense with the lead. They forced three-straight punts and their offense put the game out of reach with back-to-back scores that made it 42-21 at halftime.
Lee capped a 15-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and Dotson flew through Illinois’ defense again on a 70-yard catch-and-run to push his first-half receiving total to 183 yards, 33 shy of Deon Butler’s single-game record set against Northwestern in 2006.
The Illini wouldn’t come close to scoring again and didn’t cross midfield after the first quarter.
Williams finished with 120 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 8-of-18 passing. He added 102 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Illinois: The Illini haven’t had a winning season since 2011. They’ll look to change that with Bret Bielema who signed a six-year deal on Saturday and attended the game to get an early look at what he’ll have to work with.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions have made a lot of progress after a string of injuries soured the first few weeks of their season and snowballed into an 0-5 start. Over four-straight wins, they have had contributions from numerous freshmen on offense — namely Lee, Holmes, Strange and Washington — that should bode well for the offseason.
Illinois: Await bowl invitation.
Penn State: Await bowl invitation.