STATE COLLEGE — Last week, Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson led the convoy of wideouts who escorted KJ Hamler on his 58-yard touchdown catch and run at Maryland.
Saturday afternoon, Hamler reciprocated the assist, as he plowed a path for Dotson to score a 78-yard, first-quarter touchdown on a throw from quarterback Sean Clifford.
The touchdown reception was the longest of Dotson’s two-year Penn State career, and it highlighted a 35-7 Penn State win against Purdue before a homecoming crowd of 106,536 at Beaver Stadium.
“When we’re helping each other out like that, it leads to big plays,” said Dotson, who finished with a team-high 79 yards. “All we need is just one or two blocks, and we can make big plays. It’s pretty cool to have your teammates know you can depend on them and they can depend on you.”
For the fifth consecutive game, Penn State’s defense held an opponent to fewer than 14 points. The unit entered the contest ranked second in the FBS (7.5 points per game) in scoring defense.
Purdue (1-4, 0-2 in Big Ten) arrived in Happy Valley under less-than-ideal circumstances. Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore were injured last week against Minnesota and were unavailable on Saturday. In total, Purdue was without 10 starters on offense and defense.
The Penn State defense pounced on the undermanned Boilermaker offense. Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer was sacked 10 times. The Nittany Lions were two sacks shy of breaking a school single-game sack record.
“We knew he was a young redshirt freshman,” said Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who recorded a sack. “We knew our front had to be dominant, as usual. They put a lot of pressure on him and showed him some looks he probably hasn’t seen before.”
Penn State (5-0, 2-0 in Big Ten) defensive end Shaka Toney accounted for three sacks, while defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos tallied two. Plummer recorded his first completion at the 14:17 mark in the second quarter, and ended the contest 13-of-27 passing for 113 yards with one touchdown.
With Sindelar and Moore, Purdue boasted the Big Ten’s No. 1 pass offense (351 yards per game).
“I believe they’re the best passing offense in the Big Ten,” Toney said. “We really wanted to challenge ourselves. We knew we had to come out and get pressure on the quarterback, and that’s what we did.”
Purdue’s rushing attack finished with negative-19 yards, and the Boilermakers offense gained just 123 yards and eight first downs. Penn State’s defense held its opponent to fewer than 129 yards of offense for the second consecutive week.
The Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on their first four drives to build a 28-0 lead early into the second quarter. That momentum stalled as the Nittany Lions’ first five drives of the second half resulted in punts.
Penn State running back Noah Cain awakened a crowd that had grown listless during the offensive lull with a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Cain opened the six-play scoring drive with an 11-yard run, and he added rushes of 16, 8, 27 yards before his 2-yard touchdown scamper. Cain received a team-high 12 carries which he converted into a team-high 105 yards.
“He’s very decisive in how he runs,” Franklin said. “He sticks his foot in the ground and gets north-south. He breaks tackles. He’ll get a 16-yard, a 12-yard, a 4-yard (run). … He’s just very consistent.”
All wasn’t bad for the Boilermakers, however.
Purdue capitalized on Clifford’s second turnover of the year for its lone points of the contest. Boilermaker cornerback Simeon Smiley picked off a pass from Clifford and returned it to its 38.
On the ensuing play, Plummer found receiver Jackson Anthrop for his first completion of the game — for 1 yard — and the next play he tossed a 42-yard completion to David Bell. Plummer and Amad Anderson Jr. finally put the Boilermakers on the board with a 15-yard touchdown pass and catch at the 7:18 mark in the second quarter.
Bell led Purdue in yards receiving as he accumulated 59 on three receptions. Plummer targeted the freshman seven times.
Penn State travels to No. 14 Iowa next Saturday, where it looks to move to 3-0 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes dropped a 10-3 contest to No. 19 Michigan in a game where the Wolverine defense logged eight sacks.
“We’re happy to get a convincing win here in Beaver Stadium,” Franklin said. “We continue to get better on third down on defense, we continue to get better on third down on offense, so that’s positive. But obviously, there are some things that we have to get cleaned up on Sunday and Monday so that we have the opportunity to be 1-0 next week.”