Mark Znidar
Mark Znidar

Mark Znidar comes to Press Pros Magazine after 33 ½ years at The Columbus Dispatch. From 1996 until September 2018, he staffed high school sports, Ohio colleges that included the Mid-American Conference, Ohio State’s upcoming opponents in football and Ohio State baseball. In the previous three seasons he covered the Columbus Clippers triple-A baseball team. His other beats were Ohio State basketball (1985-88), Clippers (1985-86 and 1989-93), Cincinnati Bengals (1993-95) and NASCAR (1994-2008). He subbed on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ohio State women’s basketball beats. In March 2017, Znidar was inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.  Znidar was born in Cleveland and raised in Richmond Heights. He graduated from Cleveland St. Joseph High School and the University of Dayton. He also worked for The Atlantic City Press, Lake County News-Herald and Baltimore News-American. He has a daughter, Amanda, and four grandchildren.

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The true freshman cornerback said practicing against Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have prepared him for Penn State’s star receiver, and most dynamic player.

Columbus, OH. – Jahan Dotson isn’t Superman, Batman or even Robin, but the true senior receiver from Penn State in all probability is going to be selected high in the 2022 NFL draft despite not wearing a cape on game day.

A cornerback, safety or any player on defense absolutely, positively shouldn’t challenge him five days before kickoff and have those words splattered in newspapers and on websites and heard on television and radio.

But Denzel Burke, Ohio State’s lead cornerback, did just that late Tuesday afternoon sitting behind a microphone inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Veteran columnist Mark Znidar writes the Buckeyes for Press Pros Magazine.com.

“He’s a pretty good receiver, but it’s nothing I can’t handle,’’ Burke said.

Later, he smiled and said, “I like to talk a little mess sometimes. I always like to get in your face.’’

The fifth-ranked Buckeyes (6-1) will take on No. 20 Penn State (5-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium and on national television on ABC.

This game is a big deal for Ohio State in that one more loss surely would shut it out of a third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.

“All it takes is one (loss on) Saturday and your season could be ruined,’’ head coach Ryan Day said on his state-wide radio show.

Last season, Dotson, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound package of explosiveness, kept the Nittany Lions in the annual Big Ten East showdown game against Ohio State all by himself by catching eight passes for 144 yards in a 38-25 loss.

He caught touchdown passes of 14, 21 and 20 yards against Shaun Wade.

No question, Wade should have been the team’s slot cornerback – a position he played well in 2019 – but took one for the team playing on the boundary as the most experienced DB on the roster.

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Asked about Penn State’s offense this season, Day said, “Obviously, led by Dotson, somebody that we recruited. He’s a great player.’’

A lot of teams offered Dotson a scholarship, and Ohio State was among the most aggressive in getting him on campus for unofficial visits in April, July and November of 2016 and April of 2017. He is from Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Dotson competed at the Buckeyes summer camp in July of 2017, which was more than a calendar year after he was offered a scholarship.

UCLA received a verbal commitment from him in September 2017, but he flipped to Penn State.

Freshman defensive back Trey Burke makes a strip on Tulsa receiver earlier this season.

What does Burke think about the matchup with Dotson?

“That’s something I’m looking forward to,’’ he said. “I just want to go out there with my team and get a dub (win).’’

Burke’s courtship with Ohio State was short. He committed in May of 2020 and signed on December 16.

Other teams on his list were Michigan State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Tennessee and LSU.

The Buckeyes sales pitch had to be exceptional in that Burke was a wideout and had never played defensive back in high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was a four-star prospect rated the No. 8 athlete by 247Sports.

The transition from offense to defense has been spectacular. Burke started the opener at Minnesota and has become a given in the lineup. He has 16 tackles, broken up six passes and returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown against Rutgers.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s something that I expected,’’ he said. “It’s who I am and it’s what I am trying to achieve in my life. I just came in, worked hard, put my head down and knew what I wanted to do.’’

Keep in mind that Indiana went into last week’s 54-7 loss to Ohio State without star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. because of a shoulder injury and lost starter Jack Tuttle for all but three plays after the opening touchdown drive because of an injury.

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Yet Burke did hold receiver Ty Fryfogle to one catch for 30 yards.

In 2020, Fryfogle burned the Buckeyes for 218 yards, including touchdowns of 63, 33 and 56 yards, on seven catches.

The problem in becoming an ace cornerback is that quarterbacks begin to look the other way for completions. Fryfogle was targeted twice last week.

“I would hope teams are starting to respect me a little more,’’ Burke said. “At the same time, I really do want them to test me.’’

Burke was asked what type of adjustments he will have to make trying to cover Dotson.

Quarterback Sean Clifford is expected to be healthy and in the lineup Saturday against Ohio State.

He does go against Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and so many others in practice, so what can Dotson present that he hasn’t seen?

“Honestly, not too many adjustments,’’ Burke said. “You just go out there and trust your technique, trust what you’ve been playing. I guard the best in the nation (in practice) and apply to him what I apply to them.’’

Dotson has been one of the few positives for a Penn State offense that has not gotten the job done.

He has caught 49 passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. In an opening win at Wisconsin, he had five catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. He had 10 catches for 78 yards and a score in a victory over Auburn and eight catches against Indiana and Iowa.

Last season, Dotson caught 52 passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Quarterback Sean Clifford, a senior from Cincinnati St. Xavier High School, should be able to play a second straight week, according to coach James Franklin.

Clifford has an undisclosed injury to one side and was in discomfort in a stunning 20-18 loss to Illinois in nine overtimes last week at home.

How do they come back from that?

“We have a lot of leaders in our locker room and a lot of guys who have been there before,’’ Dotson said. “We have a lot of guys who were on those teams that know what that feels like. We know that coming into the next week, that something wasn’t going right the previous week, so we have to go even harder in the film room, on the practice field and that’s what we’re going to do because that’s the kind of guys we have in the locker room.”

Ohio State knows all about having to come back. In Week 2, Oregon came to town and pulled off a 35-28 victory that knocked them from the No. 3 ranking all the way to 11th.

After that game, Day demoted defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and replaced him with Matt Barnes.

“He’s one hell of a coach,’’ Burke said of Barnes. “He showed me nothing but love when he came in. He’s really good (scheme-wise) and he’s a good teacher and he knows how to get his point across.’’

The Buckeyes have played teams that have ranged from terrible to mediocre in defeating Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana.

Barnes has righted the defense by playing two safeties, resurrected the famed “bullet’’ position with Ronnie Hickman and gone with plenty of youth.

“Obviously we’re way playing better and blowing out teams,’’ Burke said. “We’re scoring a lot of points. We’re out there having fun. I would say it’s us coming together as a unit and just trusting the process, trusting the changes and trusting what our coaches are giving us.’’

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