PASADENA, California (WCMH) — Ohio State and Utah combined for a staggering 93 points in the Rose Bowl but it was the Buckeyes who outlasted the Utes 48-45 to win on New Year’s Day.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was sublime, Jaxon Smith-Njigba shattered three Ohio State records and the Buckeyes’ defense needs help.
Here’s more on those three takeaways:
Jaxon Smith-Njigba makes a lot of history
Ohio State sophomore receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba made history in more ways than one against Utah.
He finished with 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns while breaking several Ohio State records:
- Most receiving yards in a single season (1,606)
- Most receiving yards in a single game and in a FBS Bowl game (347)
- Most receptions in a single season (95)
- Tied his own record for most catches in a single game (15)
“I trust coach is going to put me in the right opportunities, trust that C.J. is going to put me in the right opportunities and just take advantage of every opportunity that I get,” Smith-Njigba said.
Smith-Njigba led Ohio State in receptions and receiving yards entering the game but was widely considered the Buckeyes’ third-best pass catcher this season.
OSU receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave decided to forgo the Rose Bowl and enter the NFL Draft, leaving an opportunity for Smith-Njigba to showcase his abilities on the national stage. He took full advantage, showing flashes of DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase who were both taken in the top 10 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Smith-Njigba almost had four touchdowns but was chased down from behind and had the ball punched out by Utah’s Clark Phillips III just a few steps from the end zone.
“We leaned on him a lot,” OSU coach Ryan Day said. “At one point I asked him, ‘Are you tired?’ you know on the play where Clark caught him and he looked at me like, ‘What are you asking me for? Are you crazy?’ He went right back out there and played one of the best games probably in the history of the Rose Bowl.”
The Buckeyes’ receiver room is in good hands next season starting with Smith-Njigba and extending to Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming.
C.J. Stroud goes scorched earth
C.J. Stroud has not shied away from expressing his displeasure at finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy race a few weeks ago. He remained humble and respectful about the situation while explaining how he would use it as motivation for “the rest of his career.”
The redshirt freshman used that motivation, along with the loss to Michigan, by throwing for 573 yards and six touchdowns.
“This is the Rose Bowl where legendary games are played, so if you’re not motivated to play, I question your love for the game,” Stroud said.
Perhaps more impressive than Stroud’s stat line was his composure and the way he refused to let Ohio State lose the game. The Buckeyes trailed for most of the Rose Bowl but he stayed even keel, just as he has all season, including after throwing an interception in the Utah end zone on OSU’s first drive of the second half.
Stroud led the Buckeyes on five scoring drives after the interception, proving he’ll be a Heisman favorite next season.
Utah’s defense includes a few NFL-caliber players, but Stroud carved up the Utes with an average of 12.3 yards per pass and 36 completions on 47 attempts with only one interception, which he tried to force in the end zone.
Stroud is one of, if not the most, accurate passers in college football and a few of the touchdown throws he made Saturday will make him a lot of money on Sundays, including these two examples:
OSU’s defense needs fixing
Jim Knowles has plenty of work ahead of him when he officially takes over as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator on Monday, Jan. 3.
The Buckeyes had one of their worst first-half performances in program history against the Utes, allowing 166 yards rushing and 158 yards passing while giving up four defensive touchdowns.
Utah’s first two drives ended with a punt but the Utes next four offensive possession resulted in a touchdown.
OSU stopped the bleeding in the second half by only allowing one touchdown, one field goal, and 139 yards.
“We talked about playing fast and violent and I thought they played that way in the second half,” Day said. “The d-line really started to impose their will. I think if we can become more consistent in that area and have that mentality . . . then we have a chance to have a really good defense next year.”
Matt Barnes and the Buckeye defense deserve credit for the way they responded to adversity but it’s clear Ohio State has flaws on defense that Knowles will need to address before OSU’s 2022 season opener against Notre Dame on Sept. 2022.