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Question: What does Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s injury mean for the Ohio State offense?
First off, it’s never a good thing when you lose the best wide receiver in the country for any period of time, but if you are a glass-half-full kind of fan, there is probably a fairly significant silver lining or two to Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s apparent hamstring strain.
On Monday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day told the Big Ten Network that his star wide receiver does not have a long-term injury and could be back on the field as early as this Saturday against Arkansas State. However, at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Day said that JSN would need to be 100% in order to play against the Red Wolves, and that he would leave that determination up to the medical staff.
For his part at the weekly presser, quarterback C.J. Stroud alluded to the fact that it appears that Smith-Njigba is dealing with a hamstring injury suffered on a questionably dirty hit against Notre Dame.
While I am neither a doctor (or football coach for that matter), nor do I play one on TV, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that unless JSN’s hammy is in better working condition than it was to start Saturday’s game against the Irish, it’s probably in everybody’s interest if he just takes the week off; heck, take next week against Toldeo off too if you want.
If the best wide receiver in the country is healthy, then obviously, he should be out there, but if there are any lingering concerns about the long-term health of his legs, then Day and company should take the opportunity afforded by back-to-back weeks against opponents that the Buckeyes will not need its full complement of players to beat (I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass) and sit their star wideout.
As long as JSN is in tip-top shape by the time the Big Ten season kicks off on Sept. 24 when Wisconsin comes calling to Columbus, that’s all that matters to me. Get Smith-Njigba healthy as quickly as possible, but there’s no reason for him to play a second sooner than that happens.
But, beyond having the ability for Jaxon to take the next two weeks off if the medical team deems it necessary, there is another positive to the projected first-round receiver being potentially sidelined.
It was pretty clear for the first two and a half quarters of the game against ND that Stroud was not yet in perfect sync with his first-time starting receivers like he was last year with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Smith-Njigba; but how could he be? Not only was Saturday the first time that Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. were starting a regular season game, but with injuries to JSN and Julian Fleming, they were quickly elevated to go-to options in arguably the biggest game of the 2022 season until The Game in late November.
While, fortunately, OSU’s QB and WRs seemed to get on the same page when it mattered most to eventually salt away a double-digit victory over the then No. 5-team in the country, I would love to see Stroud and company — including Fleming if he is healthy and everybody’s favorite pass-catcher/special teams playmaker Xavier Johnson — get more opportunities to work on their timing and cohesion in game situations before the pressure of the conference slate kicks into gear.
I think most Buckeye fans — myself included — are pretty confident that Day, Stroud and WR coach Brian Hartline’s crew will be able to get the passing game clicking in fairly short order, but if they are able to make the most out of a potential week or two-absence from Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it could end up being to the Buckeyes’ long-term benefit.
In life and in sports, there are very few substitutions for experience. Because of the abundance of receiver talent that Hartline has assembled at OSU over the past four years, it is tough for even the most talented pass-catchers to gain ample experience if they aren’t on top of the depth chart. So, if opportunity allows, the Buckeyes should take advantage and get Egbuka, Harrison, Fleming, Johnson, Jayden Ballard, et al. as much experience running routes and catching passes from Stroud against non-Buckeye defenders as possible; that will only serve to pay dividends later in the season.