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B1G Thoughts: Jaxon Smith-Njigba shines, TTUN falls short in Big Ten bowl season

In this week’s B1G Thoughts we get into JSN record breaking performance, TTUN blowout loss, and more

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game - Ohio State v Utah Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every week I will be bringing you some B1G thoughts on everything that happened! This will include analysis, stats, key players, moments and maybe a joke or two. Be sure to check out the I-70 Football Show in the Land-Grant Holy Land podcast feed for more in-depth analysis and to preview the next week of B1G games.

Michigan fall shorts

After a disappointing, pandemic shortened season in 2020, Michigan went back to the drawing board for 2021. We’re all familiar with the story at this point, Jim Harbaugh took a massive pay cut and made substantial staffing changes with the end goal of getting younger and more dynamic.

As it has been the case throughout his entire tenure, the goal was to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten. To that end, they finally achieved that goal in dominating fashion leading to the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 2003.

If this was 2003, the Michigan Wolverines would go to the Rose Bowl and celebrate their best year in a long time. This is not 2003 and their season didn’t end in the Rose Bowl. Instead, they gained access to the illustrious four-team tournament for a national championship. That’s where their special season ended at the hands of a dominant Georgia program looking for their first national championship since 1980.

All of the magic of TTUN’s season — the bruising run game, the exciting play-calling, the dominant pass rush led by future top-three pick Aidan Hutchinson — was nonexistent in the semifinal game against the Bulldogs.

Michigan lost to the better team; the final score was 34-11 and the Wolverines did not score a touchdown until there was 4:25 left on the clock. So now the question is whether or not their season was a success or a disappointment.

For any program not named Ohio State, Alabama, or Clemson, a conference championship and a playoff appearance should always be considered a successful season, but only Michigan fans can determine how they feel about the 2021 campaign. As we look forward to 2022, the question becomes whether or not last season’s success was a one off, or if that was the beginning of something big for the Wolverines.

2022 Rose Bowl = Instant Classic

While Michigan was having their best season in decades, Ohio State was having one of its worst. It’s a very privileged position to consider a 10-2 season with a Rose Bowl appearance a failure, but within the Ohio State program and fanbase that is exactly what this season was.

Due to that, and the fact that Utah was essentially a carbon copy of the two teams who had already beaten Ohio State, many believed that the Buckeyes wouldn’t fair well in the Rose Bowl. Why play a meaningless exhibition game when you have championship dreams?

And if you tuned into the Rose Bowl, but turned the channel at half time, then you could have assumed that Ohio State — at least defensively — didn’t care all that much about the game. Utah went into the half up 35-21, having scored a touchdown on five of their six first half possessions.

This was Utah’s Super Bowl and Ohio State looked ill-prepared to be on the field. That was until the defense found something within itself that they’d been missing the whole season, leadership in the form of veteran two-way player Demario McCall. Reportedly, it was his halftime speech to the team that caused a spark and a nearly entirely different Ohio State defense coming out of the locker room.

The defense — which had given up 35 points in the first half — only allowed 10 in the second half. Couple that with an offense that went full supernova on Saturday behind the record-breaking performance of Jaxon Smith-Njigba and three touchdowns by Marvin Harrison Jr.

Ultimately, Ohio State pulled out the 48-45 victory on a last second-ish field goal by Noah Ruggles. Utah’s Super Bowl and Ohio State’s consolation prize turned into an instant classic that we will be watching replays of for years to come. Kudos to Utah for leaving it all on the field and shoutout to the Buckeyes for showing toughness and a will to win that has escaped them most of the season.

J$N re-writes the record books

Throughout the 2021 season, Ohio State’s best receiver statistically was not veteran Chris Olave or fellow future first-round draft pick Garrett Wilson. Instead, it was sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Many people, including voters who select All-America teams or give out postseason awards like the Biletnikoff, ignored JSN season and credited his success to playing with Olave and Wilson. Well, after his record-breaking Rose Bowl performance, it’s safe to say that JSN stood on his own and proved that his 2021 success was not simply because of the attention paid to the more high profile receivers.

With Wilson preparing for the draft and Olave on the sideline, along with quarterback C.J. Stroud, JSN put his team on back to the tune of 15 catches for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns. Smith-Njigba came into the game needing 11 catches and 176 yard to break Ohio State’s single-season records for receiving yards and catches.

After his epic performance, JSN now holds those records and more; he has the new marks for receiving yards in a season (1,606), receptions in a season (95), receptions per game (7.5), receptions in a single-game (15), and receiving yards per game (123.5).

Unfortunately for every defensive back in the country, JSN still has another year of eligibility and will be the No. 1 option for Stroud in 2022. In one season, Smith-Njigba rewrote the Ohio State record books; it is unfathomable to think what he can do in two seasons. For what it’s worth, JSN needs 107 receptions and 1,292 yards to break the Ohio State record for most receptions and receiving yards in a career, definitely within reach.

Stroud, OSU most NFL ready QB?

Ohio State has had a multitude of electric quarterbacks over the years, but currently none have been successful at the next level. Since Ryan Day came to Columbus — first as offensive coordinator and eventually as head coach — Ohio State has had two first round picks, Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields.

Haskins probably needed another year in college before going pro. He was a raw prospect, some immaturity and coaching turnover cost him his job and he is now a backup for the Steelers.

Justin Fields is currently at the end of his rookie season and Ohio State’s best chance at a star NFL quarterback. As expected, his first year in the league has been up and down, but Fields remains immensely talented and the likely future for the Chicago Bears.

I firmly believe that Fields is the best QB in Ohio State history, but it’s okay to admit that Stroud is special. From a pure pocket perspective, I believe Stroud is the most NFL-ready QB Ohio State has seen in the 21st Century. His ability to anticipate receivers getting open, layer his throws, his accuracy across the middle and his touch are all exceptional.

Stroud’s biggest flaws are inconsistent decision making and his deep ball, but those can be fixed with another year of development under Day. If this next year goes well, Stroud will have a legitimate opportunity to do something no OSU quarterback has ever done; become a No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Madness in Music City Bowl

If you listen to the “I-70 Football Show,” you would have heard my co-host Dante Morgan and I predicted a high scoring game between Purdue and Tennessee.

Both teams have amazing offenses and defense is optional. While both teams attack differently, Purdue is essentially pass-only and Tennessee a more balanced offense, they can both put up points at an insane rate.

I don’t know about you, but watching a defense-optional bowl game is my preference and until the Rose Bowl happened last Saturday night, the Music City Bowl was the most entertaining game of the entire bowl slate.

Purdue pulled out a 48-45 overtime win behind 534 yards and 5 touchdowns for quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Without All-American wide receiver David Bell, junior Broc Thompson was the beneficiary with 7 receptions for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. Purdue finished the year 9-4.

Despite many people, myself included, expecting another down year, Jeff Brohm led Purdue to one of the best seasons in program history.

B1G Bowl Update

After a 5-0 start the Big Ten finished bowl season 6-4 overall. Check out the results below:

Ohio State vs. Utah: 48-45 Ohio State
Michigan vs Georgia: 34-11 Georgia
Maryland vs. Virginia Tech: 54-10 Maryland
Rutgers vs. Wake Forest: 38-10 Wake Forest
Kentucky vs. Iowa: 20-17 Kentucky
Penn State vs. Arkansas: 24-10 Arkansas
Wisconsin vs. Arizona State: 20-13 Wisconsin
Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh: 31-21 Michigan State
Minnesota vs. West Virginia: 18-6 Minnesota
Purdue vs. Tennessee: 48-45 Purdue