PASADENA, Calif. —15 catches on 16 targets, 347 receiving yards, and three touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a one of a kind player who yet again stepped up in a big way for Ohio State. Even when Ohio State had its losses this season against Oregon and Michigan, Smith-Njigba had record days. Impressive catches, a consistent presence and impressive stat lines are nothing new for Smith-Njigba.
But nothing compares to his outright dominance in the 108th Rose Bowl game on Saturday against Utah. Smith-Njigba’s 327 receiving yards is the most by any player in any bowl game in college football history. He was simply unstoppable.
“I was in that zone,” Smith-Njigba said after accepting the Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game award, “It was amazing, the best feeling in the world.”
In achieving that record-setting number, he managed to break a few Ohio State all-time, single-season records along the way.
It took just one half and 177 yards for Smith-Njigba to set Ohio State’s new single-season record for receiving yards, breaking the previous record of 1,435 yards set by David Boston in 1998.
Next, Smith-Njigba broke the all time single-game receiving yards record. The sophomore surpassed Terry Glenn’s record of 253 receiving yards in the 1995 game against Pittsburgh.
With his 91st catch of the year and 11th of the Rose Bowl, Smith-Njigba broke Ohio State’s single-season record for receptions that was previously held by Parris Campbell, who had 90 catches in 2018.
“This is the type of game I dreamed of, I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Smith-Njigba said. “For that to happen, I’m just blessed.”
Ohio State’s offense got off to a rough start, punting on its first two possessions, struggling to move the ball both on the ground and in the air. But Utah simply had no answer for covering Smith-Njigba and that was the key for Ohio State to get things done offensively.
Even with Smith-Njigba fumbled in the second quarter after a hit by Utah’s Clark Phillips, that didn’t stop him from continuing to make a big impact.
“Certainly some of the plays he made tonight were tremendous,” head coach Ryan Day said. “We leaned on him a lot. At one point I asked him, are you tired? On the play there where Clark [Phillips] caught him, he looked at me like what are you asking me for? Are you crazy? I’m going back out there. And played one of the best games probably in the history of the Rose Bowl.”
For offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the most impressive part of Smith-Njigba’s performance was that he stepped up to the challenge in a big-time game when his team needed him.
“It’s one thing to have those games, but to do it in this arena, on this stage, on New Years Day with the nation watching — It’s not CFP but it’s as big as it gets,” Wilson said. ” I think it says a lot when you’re called upon to play great. The greatest players play great in big games. You can see where that kid’s future goes.”
But he couldn’t have done it without his quarterback, redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud. Smith-Njigba showed off his unique ability to make himself open and was making the catches from Stroud all over the field. Both Smith-Njigba and Day spoke after the game of the connection between the quarterback and receiver duo.
“C.J. and he just have a great connection,” Day said. “They have a great feel, and I think there’s a lot of trust there that’s been built over the year. I think it happened a little bit in that Nebraska game. Who knows? You have to ask them. Maybe it happened last year, I don’t know. But they read each other really well, and they’ve got a special connection.”
With Stroud and Smith-Njigba returning to the team next season, there’s plenty more to come.