Theo Johnson and tight ends enjoy breakout performance in White Out win

Story posted October 23, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

Throughout the offseason, James Franklin said he would put his tight end room against any in the country.

However, Penn State failed to incorporate its three tight ends into the offense as Brenton Strange separated himself from Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren.

Saturday was a different story, as both Johnson and Warren played crucial roles in the 45-17 victory over Minnesota.

Johnson came into the contest with the Golden Gophers with just two catches for 19 yards, but after one quarter, he matched his season total of catches while racking up 43 yards.

The Windsor, Ontario, native finished the game with five catches for 75 yards and his first touchdown of the year.

Johnson wasn’t the only player at his position to get touches, with Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich making a point to feed the tight ends with the receivers locked down in coverage.

“He played really well,” Franklin said about Johnson after the victory.  “We expect that from him. I’m happy for him, and he has that type of ability. There are going to be weeks based on game planning and matchups that you may emphasize a certain position or a certain guy. But really a lot of times, it just depends on how the defense plays out to where the ball goes.”

This season has been difficult for Johnson. He missed the first two games with an undisclosed injury and recorded his first catch against Central Michigan.

In 2021, the 6-foot-6 tight end had 19 receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.

Johnson had great expectations coming to Happy Valley as the third-ranked tight end in the nation in the 2020 class, and his injury was frustrating to rehab from.

“Sometimes you want to come back quicker than sometimes you’re able to,” Johnson said. “So, I think that was a little frustrating. But if you trust in the coaches and the process, things will come along the way that they’re supposed to.”

Johnson wasn’t the only tight end to score in the blowout victory as fellow sophomore tight end Tyler Warren was left wide open and raced into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

After the touchdown, Warren ran into the student section and back to his teammates with triumph — high-fiving his teammates and coaches while getting on the helmet.

“It’s exciting,” Warren said. “I’m excited to get back to my teammates and give them some love. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things on every play, and that makes things happen.”

The touchdown catch put the blue and white up seven, and it was Warren’s only reception of the game while Strange was also held to one catch for five yards.

Penn State struggled to pass the ball last week against Michigan, but it faced little trouble on Saturday as wide receivers Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley hauled in touchdowns.

Washington finished with a game-high seven catches while racking up 70 yards and his first touchdown catch of the year.

As for Tinsley, he had four catches for 58 yards and a third quarter score that put the Nittany Lions up 38-10. On Tinsley’s score, he was wide open as the tight ends drew the attention of the linebackers and defensive backs.

Tinsley credited the trio of tight ends for adding a new dimension to the offense.

“They definitely opened up things for sure,” Tinsley said. “When you have weapons like that, as far as tight ends and running backs, I feel like it all meshes together. It creates one happy offense that can create explosive plays and do damage to the defense.”

Penn State is known for producing NFL-caliber tight ends, with Mike Gesicki and Pat Freiermuth dominating at the professional level.

While the production might not have been there from Johnson and Warren, the confidence in the room as a whole never wavered.

“We’ve always felt that way. It’s just a matter of getting everybody else to feel that way and be on the same page — the media and people across the country,” Johnson said. “I think we did a good job of displaying that today. We all have guys that can do it. We talk about that ‘next man up’ mentality. If someone gets tired, the next man is going to go in there and do the job just as good or better.”

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email