It was a record day for Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and quarterback CJ Stroud in the Rose Bowl game presented by Capital One Venture X.
The Buckeyes broke or tied eight Rose Bowl records, as well as some Ohio state records, on Saturday in a 48-45 victory over Utah.
Smith-Njigba set several records on his own after finishing with 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The 347 receiving yards were the most in a bowl game in FBS history, as well as the most in a game in Buckeyes history, while the 15 receptions were a Rose Bowl record. The catcher also tied the Rose Bowl mark for receiving touchdowns along with teammate Marvin Harrison Jr., who also had three touchdowns in the game, and set Ohio State’s record for receiving yards during a season.
Stroud broke the Rose Bowl record for passing yards and touchdowns after completing 37 of 46 for 573 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.
Stroud said he wasn’t surprised by Smith-Njigba’s performance, because he’s seen him do it all season, in practice and in games. Smith-Njigba had 240 receiving yards against Nebraska earlier in the year, and with his performance on Saturday, Smith-Njigba became the only Ohio State receiver to have multiple 200-yard receiving games.
“We built that connection probably all the way back to Likes, we got together as freshmen, we got there early, we were throwing the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center] our first day, “Stroud said.” So last year’s scouting team was like when we actually built it. “
The team did all of this despite not having leading receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, both projected as first-round picks in the next NFL draft. The Buckeyes were down 35-21 at halftime, but found a way to score 27 points in the second half.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said team leaders came to the locker room in the middle, similar to what happened in the 2019 Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. Day said he will leave the statement in the locker room, something he may not be able to repeat anyway, but that team leaders stepped forward.
“I am very proud of the coaching staff, the players and the leaders of this team for playing like we did, especially in the second half and winning this game,” Day said after the game. “We were short-staffed, and there were some guys that weren’t here today. And that we respond like we did at halftime and then go out to play in the second half says a lot about the character of this team. They win this game.”
Smith-Njigba broke Terry Glenn’s school record of 253 yards, set against Pitt in 1995. He also easily beat Keyshawn Johnson’s previous Rose Bowl record of 216 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the sophomore’s strong performance put him at 1,606 receiving yards for the season, breaking David Boston’s previous school single-season record of 1,435 yards in 1998.
“I just try to take advantage of every time the ball is in the air, and I feel like I did it today,” Smith-Njigba said.
Stroud’s 573 passing yards are the third-most in a bowl game and also the second-most in any game in Big Ten history. Dave Wilson had 621 for Illinois in 1980 against Ohio State.
It wasn’t all of Ohio State in the game though, as Utah led early, then came back late in the game with backup quarterback Bryson Barnes, who hadn’t thrown a pass all season.
Utah’s starting quarterback Cameron Rising left with an apparent head injury with 9:56 left in the game, but his initial assessment was not concerning, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.
“He’s doing fine now according to the post-game report, unless there’s something going on that we don’t know about,” Whittingham said.
Barnes led the Utes to a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to contain the Buckeyes. The halftime rally and player leadership pushed Ohio State forward.
With Stroud being a freshman and Smith-Njigba being a sophomore, Day saw this game as a positive thing for the upcoming season and said it made him realize the team is in good hands with young leaders already have taken over.
“As we get closer to this offseason, that’s the part that we’re really going to come back to in this game, it’s the leadership that pushed us in the second half that they weren’t going to deny us, and two of them are sitting here. “Day said. “And if we want to get to where we want to be next year, we certainly have, it’s a long way from now, but I’m already thinking about that first game and what that means is that the leadership of these two guys has really been a springboard. Especially the way they played in the second half of this game, but really the whole game, it’s really going to build some momentum. “
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura contributed to this report.