If any doubt remained as to whether Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud is the real deal, his performance in the Rose Bowl put the critics to rest. But with several key players opting out as they head to the NFL, Stroud wasn’t the only Buckeye to show up in a big way in Saturday’s phenomenal 48-45 victory over Utah.
None stepped up more than sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, whose lights-out performance will carry me through to next season.
Though star receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson often received the spotlight this year (and with good reason — they combined for 135 catches, 1,994 yards, and 25 touchdowns this season), it was actually Smith-Njigba who was the team’s leading receiver, with 80 catches for 1,259 yards and 6 touchdowns in the regular season.
And with Olave and Wilson opting out of the Rose Bowl and heading to the NFL next year, Texas-native Smith-Njigba showed beyond a shred of doubt that he’s ready to step into the WR1 slot for next year, both athletically and in terms of his leadership.
With 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns, Smith-Njigba’s record-breaking display at the Rose Bowl is exactly what makes him the Buckeyes’ best offensive player heading into next season, regardless of position.
JSN’s 347 receiving yards — the most in any bowl game in FBS history — surpassed the entire Utah team’s combined yardage in the game and smashed the school record for receiving yards in a single game, previously held by the late great Terry Glenn who went for 253 yards against Pitt in 1995.
Smith-Njigba’s 15 catches were also a Rose Bowl record. His three touchdowns tied the Rose Bowl record for receiving touchdowns, along with teammate Marvin Harrison Jr., the freshman who also had a huge coming out party on Saturday.
52-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud to Jaxon Smith-Njigba! Wow. 28-21 Utah pic.twitter.com/36w58pxGwH— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) January 1, 2022
But what does all of this mean heading into next season? For starters, it means Smith-Njigba is capable of being the man at the center of the Buckeyes’ game plan. While all eyes have been on Stroud season during what was a stellar breakout year, Smith-Njigba was a force of consistency, hard work, and talent that will make him next year’s top offensive player.
It’s exciting to think about what this duo is capable of doing together next season — Buckeye fans have a lot to look forward to. And Smith-Njigba’s hard work to get to this point can’t be underestimated.
But he’s also just built differently; some of the things that he accomplished on that field in Pasadena on Saturday just can’t be taught. JSN has an uncanny ability to change speeds, regardless of the route he is running, and this agility (which he makes look effortless) is part of what makes him so hard to defend.
His stamina, his drive, and his grit — along with his natural athleticism — are all part of what make him a huge threat to opponents. And if what we saw on Saturday is a preview of what’s to come next season, I don’t think Stroud will be the only Buckeye whose name pops up in Heisman conversations.