Denzel Burke Says Matchup With Penn State’s Jahan Dotson Is “Nothing I Can’t Handle”

By Griffin Strom on October 28, 2021 at 10:10 am
Denzel Burke and Jahan Dotson
Dotson photo: Dan Rainville via Imagn Content Services, LLC

All it took was two quarters.

With three second-half touchdowns and a couple highlight-reel circus catches against Ohio State last year, Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson made himself a household name in college football, and cast doubt in the mind of every scout that considered Shaun Wade a first-round NFL talent at cornerback.

Almost exactly a year after that day, Dotson hopes to duplicate his 144-yard explosion against the Buckeyes on Saturday, while Ohio State has designs on limiting the senior’s impact at all costs.

"He's a pretty good receiver. Nothing I can't handle though."– Ohio State freshman cornerback Denzel Burke

Only, it won’t be a heralded fourth-year veteran and team captain like Wade that’s expected to cover No. 5 for the Buckeye secondary. Instead, it’ll be a brash true freshman who isn’t short on confidence despite the daunting task ahead of him.

“He’s a pretty good receiver,” Denzel Burke said Wednesday. “Nothing I can’t handle though.”

Burke has handled just about everything that’s been thrown his way with flying colors thus far. The first-year Buckeye has started every game for Ohio State this season, one of just two defenders to do so, and his Pro Football Focus position grade of 70.3 makes him the top-rated cornerback on the Buckeye roster.

Burke’s six pass breakups still lead the Buckeyes, even though he hasn’t had one in the past three games. Two games ago Burke recorded his first career interception – college or otherwise, given that he was a high school wideout – and the Arizona native returned it for a touchdown against Rutgers.

Since then, Burke’s receivers haven’t seen an abundance of targets. That lack of workload is a far cry from the Buckeyes’ season opener, when Tanner Morgan and the Minnesota offense tried to pick on the first-year starter early and often given his inexperience.

“I guess teams are starting to respect me a little more,” Burke said. “At the same time, I do want them to test me. But if they don’t, they don’t.”

If Burke is the primary corner guarding Dotson on Saturday, he won’t have to worry much about not seeing the ball come his way. Dotson has caught no less than five passes in each of Penn State’s seven games this season, and he’s averaging almost eight per game in the past five contests.

Dotson finished his breakout 2020 season with 884 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. Through seven games in 2021, the Pennsylvania native has hauled in six scores with 563 yards to boot. Up until Penn State’s recent losses to Iowa and Illinois, Dotson had caught a touchdown in six straight games dating back to last season.

Now a projected first-round NFL draft pick, Dotson had only one 100-yard game to his credit before kickoff against Ohio State on Oct. 31, 2020.

“That was probably one of the best games of my career, a game that I’ll never forget,” Dotson said Tuesday. “To be honest, I’m trying to do the same this year, if not even better. That’s kind of just the mindset I was born with, raised with. Not even dwelling on the past, just trying to be better this week, trying to be better than I was last year, better than I was the year before that.”

Amid the Nittany Lions’ recent struggles, including the aforementioned back-to-back losses, the Penn State passing attack has not been able to utilize Dotson’s abilities quite as effectively as they would like.

Dotson still managed to haul in 14 catches for 117 yards total across those two games, but the former four-star recruit was averaging 89.2 receiving yards per game through the first five contests of the year. But even if Penn State’s passing offense (253.6 yards per game) ranks outside the top 45 nationally, Dotson remains a dangerous playmaker whenever he’s on the field.

Just ask the Buckeye coaches that saw him firsthand last season.

“I think Dotson’s one of the better wide receivers in the country, and we got to know where he is at all times,” Ryan Day said Tuesday. “They’re gonna try and find ways to get him the ball, for sure. And so however we go about doing that, that’s part of the schematic stuff that we’ll work on this week. But we have to know exactly where he is.”

Dotson figures to be the best wide receiver Burke has been tasked with covering in a game this season. However, the Buckeye offense just so happens to possess a couple of wideouts that stack up to Dotson’s caliber.

Burke said he isn’t approaching the matchup any differently than he would a one-on-one with Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson in practice.

“Honestly, really not that much adjusting. You just got to go out there and trust your technique, trust what you’ve been playing,” Burke said. “I guard the best in the nation (in practice), so honestly just apply what I do with them with him and their receiving corps, and just do my thing.”

As winners of five straight games, including three straight wins in dominant fashion over Big Ten opponents, the Buckeyes are favored by 19 points over the 20th-ranked Nittany Lions on Saturday. The Ohio State defense that appeared destined to be the team’s downfall early in the season has now given up just 11 points a game to its past four competitors as the team’s scoring defense has climbed up to 18th in the nation.

“We obviously are playing way better, blowing out teams, limiting them to lower points,” Burke said. “I just feel like we’re out there having fun. Not too much communication, we’re just out there playing defense, playing what we love.”

Still, Dotson won’t be satisfied with a big game individually. In three previous attempts to defeat the Buckeyes, Dotson’s Nittany Lions have come up short.

“The biggest thing for me is coming out with a W. I haven’t beat Ohio State since I’ve been here, so that’s really the biggest thing for me,” Dotson said. “But yeah, trying to have a good game.”

Burke and the Buckeyes will seek to stop both of those things from happening this weekend when Ohio State hosts Penn State under the lights at Ohio Stadium.

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