Instead, he was playing a key on-field role for the first time in his college career as a member of the Buckeye defensive backfield. The redshirt freshman from Gulfport, Fla., had seen limited action this season on special teams and in mop-up duty, but the suspension of starting free safety Kurt Coleman meant someone would have to step up and replace those snaps.
Fifth-year senior Anderson Russell took over Coleman's vacated spot, but it was Johnson who came onto the field as the fifth defensive back in nickel situations.
"I feel like I played pretty good," Johnson said after the game. "I played not as best as I could but I played pretty solid. It's a pretty hard act to follow after Kurt Coleman. I think I did all right."
Johnson did not give up any big pass plays and finished the game with three solo tackles. Not only was it his first game of significant action, it was Johnson's third-ever game, period. An ankle injury kept him out of the lineup for the first two games of the season, and he assisted on one tackle against Toledo before not recording a statistic against Illinois.
It added up to a few butterflies for the 6-2, 178-pound safety when the game got underway.
"It was definitely exciting going out there, my first play of college football as an actual … contributor on the team," he said. "I was just excited for myself and for the team. I didn't want to let my teammates down."
Junior Jermale Hines, who has started the past four games at free safety, said he felt Johnson acquitted himself well to the game.
"Watching him every day in practice, I know what kind of player he is," the junior said. "He's a great competitor. He competes every day, every practice, every snap, so I knew he was going to come out here and do his job."
During the week, safeties coach Paul Haynes said Johnson has all the measurables necessary to be an impact player at his position down the road. Asked if he felt his size was his best attribute, Johnson said, "I guess that is it. I like to say my athleticism also, but that's all it is. If you don't' use it, then it's worth nothing at all."
Until Coleman's suspension levied by the Big Ten, Johnson said his role in practice had primarily consisted of playing with the second-string defense while occasionally working in with the starters. In addition, he played on special teams in practice and games as well.
With Coleman sidelined, the redshirt freshman said the week provided a time for the team captain to continue to prove his leadership.
"Kurt was definitely a leader," Johnson said. "He'd pull me aside when he saw me messing up on different things. As a motivator, he's a great leader. That's why he's one of our captains. I was lucky to have him back there helping me out. He gave me a few things to work on."
Coleman will return to action this week, and that likely means a one-way trip back to special teams and the second unit is next on Johnson's plate. It is a situation he said he is at peace with thanks to the bonds he shares with the other Buckeyes in the secondary.
"It's not really hard," he said. "The way our unit is, we're so close together. We go out and we try to give 110 percent on everything that we do. My role was to be on special teams. That's what I did. This week they needed me to play so I locked up and focused in and tried to do the best I could."
In high school, Johnson threw for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns while helping lead his team to the district championship. Giving up the position was not difficult, he said, because he felt moving to the secondary at a school like OSU was the best move for his future.
As for seeing his most consistent playing time against a school he nearly ended up suiting up for, Johnson said that did not add any pressure to the evening.
"It was a thing in the back of my mind to think about, but I was more focused on the things I had to worry about," he said. "I talked to a few players on the team that I knew and I saw the coaches and shook their hands and stuff like that but I was more focused on my team."