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‘We Know That’s a Huge Accomplishment’: Penn State Players Proud to get to 10 Wins Again

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Theo Johnson (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during a college football game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan State Spartans on November 24, 2023 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire)

For the second straight season, Penn State ended its 12-game slate by beating Michigan State for the Land Grant Trophy and finishing 10-2.

But although the record and regular-season finale were the same, the context is different.

Penn State started 2022 unranked and had gone 11-11 over the previous two seasons, so it didn’t exactly come into the year as a team thought to be a Big Ten and national championship threat.

Last year’s success led to this year’s team starting the year in the top 10 and predicted by some to win the Big Ten– something it hasn’t done since 2016– and make the College Football Playoff– something it’s never done. 

Those were the goals of QB Drew Allar and the rest of his teammates this season, and those goals weren’t met. 

Penn State ended up losing to the same two opponents it lost to last season– Michigan and Ohio State– and won every other game, like last year, to finish 10-2.

Allar wanted more, but he also understands how difficult it is to win 10 games once, let alone two year’s in a row.

“It’s definitely maybe not where we wanted to go,” Allar told reporters after Friday’s 42-0 win over Michigan State at Detroit’s Ford Field. “But, again, not many teams have won 10 (games) in back-to-back seasons, and there’s many programs around the country that would want to be in the position that we’re in.”

Friday night was one of the highs of Allar’s year

He ended the regular-season by playing perhaps the best game of his college career, going 17-for-26 for 292 yards and two touchdowns.

Allar’s season has also had some lows, such as the loss to Ohio State, ater which he fought back tears. 

But seasons are rarely perfect, especially for a 19-year-old playing in his first season as a starting quarterback. What’s important is improvement, and Allar feels he got better. 

“I’ve definitely done a lot of growing throughout this year,” he said, “just from a physical playing standpoint and mentally. The coaching staff has been unbelievable, not only with me, the offense as a whole and the quarterback room. I think it’s just been a great season. There’s been a lot of learning opportunities.”

It hasn’t been an easy year for Nicholas Singleton.

The Penn State RB made his presence known to the college football world as a true freshman in 2022, eclipsing 1,000 yards and rushing for a Penn State freshman record 12 touchdowns.

From a stats standpoint, this season hadn’t gone as smoothly.

Singleton ended the regular season with 584 yards and seven touchdowns on 145 carries. Before Friday, Singleton hadn’t rushed for 100 yards in a game yet this season. That changed against Sparty. Singleton ended the night with 118 yards and a touchdowns on 18 carries. 

But what’s important to Singleton is that Penn State wins, and it won far more than it lost in 2023. 

“Obviously, getting 10 wins is good,” Singleton said, “doing it for two straight years. For me, I felt like I did OK this year. Obviously, winning is what matters to me most. Getting a chance to make a big bowl game, so can’t wait for that.”

Unlike Allar and Singleton, tight end Theo Johnson was around for Penn State’s 4-5 pandemic-themed season of 2020 and it’s 7-6 2021, in which it started 5-0 and rose to No. 4 in the country before losing six of its last eight. Things are much better for Penn State football then they were two years ago, and that isn’t lost on Johnson. 

“I think it’s a huge accomplishment,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you want to win every game, but being a 10-win team, there’s not a lot of teams that can do that, especially back-to-back years. The big thing is trying to go 11-2 at this point, (be an) 11-win team. So, we know that’s a huge accomplishment, and it’s something that we don’t take lightly because wins are hard to come by in this league.”

Friday was a big night for Johnson. 

His hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, is less than 10 minutes from Detroit, and Johnson played in front of more than 30 family members and friends. 

They weren’t disappointed. 

Johnson caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, ending what was a solid regular season for him individually. There were also lows in Johnson’s season– like Allar at Ohio State, Johnson teared up after the Michigan loss– but overall, he feels goo about where things are. 

“Like life, there’s ups and downs,” Johnson said. “But I think that I was able to impact the team in many different facets. Obviously run-blocking and leadership and pass-catching. So, I’m happy with how things are going and looking forward to continuing to improve things.”

For fifth-year defensive end Adisa Isaac, Penn State’s “bar is a national championship”

“We strive for the best,” he said. 

But like his teammates, Isaac knows that winning 10 games is a big deal, and he believes he improved individually as well. 

“I feel like I definitely grew up,” Isaac said. “I just want to keep improving and just keep getting better, strengthening my weaknesses. I feel like I played pretty well this season.”

Penn State will almost certainly play in its fourth New Year’s Six bowl game since 2016. For Johnson, the key now is to finish 11-2 for the fourth time since 2016.

But for now, he’s proud of double-digit wins. 

“We know that’s a huge accomplishment,” he said, “and it’s something that we don’t take lightly because wins are hard to come by in this league.”

 

 

 

 

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