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‘Pain Really Motivates People’: Veteran Penn State TE Theo Johnson Suffers Through Another OSU Loss

Kalen King tackles Ohio State's Julian Fleming (Photo by Matt Lynch, Nittany Sports Now

Penn State QB Drew Allar was fighting back tears after the team’s 20-12 loss at Ohio State Saturday afternoon in Columbus. 

The Medina, Ohio, native wanted it bad. 

Fortunately for Allar, he’ll have a chance to beat Ohio State next year.

Barring something unforeseen, Theo Johnson won’t.

Penn State’s No. 1 tight end has another year of eligibility if he wants it, but the odds seem good that he’ll be in the NFL next season. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder has experienced four Penn State-Ohio State games, and Penn State’s lost all of them. In the latest loss, a 20-12 meat grinder of a game, Penn State’s offense didn’t get it done. 

“I think they (Ohio State) have a really good defense,” Johnson told reporters after the game, “but I think there were many times where we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that presented themselves, and I think that’s ultimately what got us beat today is just not being able to capitalize on stuff.”

Ohio State does have a good defense, and so does Penn State. 

As usual, coordinator Manny Diaz’s unit did its job Saturday and did it without one of its best players for most of the game.

Chop Robinson will likley be be a first-round pick in 2024, and if he indeed enters the draft, Saturday will have been his last chance to be part of a team that beat Ohio State.

When Robinson went down with a game-ending injury early in the second quarter, Johnson was there to help him off the field. 

Although they play on different sides of the ball, Johnson considers Robinson his “brother.”

“We go against each other everyday in practice,” Johnson said. “We make each other better… That’s a guy that I want to see succeed, so when I saw him down there, I just felt like I had to be there for him because he’s a guy that does a lot for this team and for this program. So it was really hard to see him in that state today.”

The difference in the game boiled down to Penn State not making enough plays, and going 1-for-16 on third down certainly didn’t help.

“That’s tough,” Johnson said, “because we put a lot of emphasis on third downs and there are countless third-down periods where every play is third down in practice. So it’s definitely frustrating and an area where we definitely need to improve on.”

For Johnson, being ready to play Ohio State wasn’t a problem.

“I think that we were more than prepared from a physicality and speed standpoint for this game,” Johnson said. “We have a hell of a defense that we play against every single day, so I think we were definitely more than prepared, just, like I said, we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities.”

Penn State still has five regular season games left, and how it does in those five will help determine where it plays in the postseason.

For Johnson, this pain could eat away at Penn State or help fuel it to brighter days. 

“I think that, you know, pain really motivates people,” Johnson said, “and I think there’s a lot of guys that are in pain right now. The key is that pain can either hurt you or help you. So we’ll really see tomorrow how we can take that pain, take that take that frustration and turn it into a positive thing. So I think we’ll see tomorrow, but I have a lot of faith in this team and all the guys that I’ve worked with.”

It’d be reasonable for one to think that this loss hurt more for veterans like Johnson and classmate Olu Fashanu. 

If Johnson believes that, he didn’t say it post-game.

For him, the loss hurt the whole group.

“I think everybody wanted it really bad today,” Johnson said. “It’s just tough. So I think, obviously, me and Olu and a lot of the older guys really wanted it bad, but I think everybody did today. So I think it was just really hard for everybody.”

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