Jaxon Smith-Njigba Breaks Rose Bowl Receiving Record as OSU Tops Utah in Thriller

Erin WalshJanuary 2, 2022

Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, right, celebrates his touchdown catch with quarterback C.J. Stroud during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Utah Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the No. 11 Utah Utes 48-45 in Saturday's Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to finish the 2021 season with an 11-2 record. 

The Buckeyes entered with a chip on their shoulder after missing out on the College Football Playoff for the first time in three years. The last time Ohio State took the field, Ryan Day's squad was embarrassed in a 42-27 loss to Michigan.

Saturday's game was Ohio State's 16th appearance in the Rose Bowl, entering with an 8-7 record in Pasadena. It was also the Buckeyes' first game against the Utes since 1986. They won that game 64-6.

Notable Stats

C.J. Stroud, QB, OSU: 37/46 for 572 YDS, 6 TD, 1 INT and 1 CAR for 10 YDS

Cameron Rising, QB, UTAH: 17/22 for 214 YDS, 2 TD and 11 CAR for 92 YDS, 1 TD

Bryson Barnes, QB, UTAH: 2/2 for 23 YDS, 1 TD and 1 CAR for 10 YDS

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, OSU: 15 REC for 346 YDS, 3 TD

Britain Covey, WR, UTAH: 3 REC for 34 YDS, 1 TD and 2 CAR for 10 YDS and 7 KR for 208 YDS, 1 TD

Marvin Harrison Jr, WR, OSU: 6 REC for 71 YDS, 3 TD

Buckeyes Have Bright Future with C.J. Stroud

Stroud is incredible. There's no other way to put it.

The freshman quarterback was without two of his top three receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, but that didn't matter as he had one of his most productive games of the season.

Stroud completed 37 of 46 passes for 572 yards and six touchdowns against one interception.

After Ohio State was forced to punt on its first two drives of the game, Stroud orchestrated three consecutive touchdown drives before a fumble by Smith-Njigba close to the end zone in the second quarter. 

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

C.J. Stroud dropped a dime to Marvin Harrison Jr. 🎯 <a href="https://t.co/j6uxSJljfU">pic.twitter.com/j6uxSJljfU</a>

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

C.J. STROUD 50-YARD TD TO JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA 🎯 <a href="https://t.co/c8lD3QjpqU">pic.twitter.com/c8lD3QjpqU</a>

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Jaxon Smith-Njigba hit the BURNERS to score 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/TatHql3xZ6">pic.twitter.com/TatHql3xZ6</a>

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

OHIO STATE TURNS IT OVER 😳 <a href="https://t.co/TLO9BniXJi">pic.twitter.com/TLO9BniXJi</a>

While Stroud ended the first half on a high note, he and the OSU offense got out to a rough start to open the third quarter. Stroud tossed an interception on the opening drive of the second half.

However, he began to heat up again as the half went on. He tossed a touchdown on his second drive of the third quarter before OSU tacked on a field goal to cut into Utah's lead, dicing the score to 38-31. In addition, he led a scoring drive to tie the game at 38 before helping the Buckeyes take the lead with 4:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. 

In addition to Stroud, Smith-Njigba, who had a record-setting night, and Marvin Harrison Jr. also had incredible evenings. Smith-Njigba finished with 15 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns. 

Smith-Njigba is now the Ohio State record holder for the most receiving yards in a game. Terry Glenn previously held the record, having recorded 253 yards against Pitt in 1995. He also has the most receiving yards in Rose Bowl game history.

Tom VanHaaren @TomVH

Jaxon Smith-Njigba now has the Ohio State record for most receiving yards in a game.<br><br>Coming into this season, Ohio State only had four 200-yard receiving games ever. Smith-Njigba has done it twice this season.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

Jaxon Smith-Njigba now has the most receiving yards (231) in <a href="https://twitter.com/rosebowlgame?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rosebowlgame</a> history.<br><br>The game's only in the third quarter 😳 <a href="https://t.co/2yNyfpHVXg">pic.twitter.com/2yNyfpHVXg</a>

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

It's a new Buckeye record for Jaxon Smith-Njigba.<br><br>He has 288 Rec yds (and counting), the most in a game in program history, and he's closing in on the all-time Bowl Game record (308 by Jason Rivers in 2006).<br><br>No. 6 Ohio State still trails, 38-31 with the 4th quarter underway. <a href="https://t.co/hnVSJjNp6c">pic.twitter.com/hnVSJjNp6c</a>

Big Ten Network @BigTenNetwork

Most TD passes in single season by B1G QB, all-time:<br><br>50 - Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State (2018) <br>41 - C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (2021) <br>41 - Justin Fields, Ohio State (2019) <br>39 - Drew Brees, Purdue (1998) <a href="https://t.co/E0WseZYZjN">pic.twitter.com/E0WseZYZjN</a>

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Jaxon Smith-Njigba finished the Rose Bowl with 347 Rec yds, a new bowl record and the 5th most in a game in FBS history.<br><br>The Buckeyes prevail in a thriller, 48-45 over No. 11 Utah. <a href="https://t.co/iMHXE3oMm2">pic.twitter.com/iMHXE3oMm2</a>

While Smith-Njigba entered the game leading Ohio State with 80 catches for 1,259 yards, he ranked third behind Olave and Wilson with six touchdowns.

Harrison, a freshman, also had the best game of his career with Olave and Wilson out of the lineup. He finished with six catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns. For comparison, he entered with just five catches for 68 yards on the season.

Emeka Egbuka, another freshman receiver, also had a nice outing with three catches for 46 yards.

Both Olave and Wilson, who declared for the NFL draft, will be gone next season, which means players like Smith-Njigba, Harrison and Egbuka will be Stroud's primary receivers in 2022.

It should also be noted that the Buckeyes were without a whopping 24 players against Utah for various reasons, which makes their performance even more impressive.

If anything, Saturday's game showed us the Buckeyes are in good hands moving forward. Based on Stroud's performance, in addition to the performances of his receivers, Ohio State could very well be in the College Football Playoff next season. 

Utes in Good Hands with Cameron Rising

Rising didn't have a performance quite like Stroud's, but he's still worth talking about.

The sophomore quarterback completed 17 of 22 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 92 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries. It was his most productive performance since a Nov. 13 win over Arizona when he threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 22 yards a score.

Rising and the Utes put together five consecutive scoring drives before ending the first half with a punt. One of his most impressive plays of the evening was breaking a tackle and rushing for a 62-yard score.

ESPN @espn

UTAH HITS THE END ZONE FIRST IN THE <a href="https://twitter.com/rosebowlgame?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rosebowlgame</a> 🚨<br><br>📺: ESPN <a href="https://t.co/ViwcC57gPb">pic.twitter.com/ViwcC57gPb</a>

ESPN @espn

UTAH 97-YARD KICK RETURN TD ⚡️ <a href="https://t.co/Vx5K537La6">pic.twitter.com/Vx5K537La6</a>

ESPN @espn

CAMERON RISING WOULD NOT BE STOPPED 😤 <a href="https://t.co/RCIwiwaQQ4">pic.twitter.com/RCIwiwaQQ4</a>

Rising had a difficult second half, and things got even worse when he was sacked by Ohio State's Kourt Williams II and had to be taken out of the game in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by freshman quarterback Bryson Barnes.

Despite the disappointing end to Rising's night, the Utes still have a bright future with him at quarterback.

Rising didn't begin the 2021 campaign as Utah's starting quarterback but earned the position after taking over for Charlie Brewer in an overtime loss to San Diego State on Sept. 18 and led the Utes to a Pac-12 championship.

Entering Saturday's game, Rising had completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns against five interceptions, in addition to rushing for 407 yards and five scores.

Rising is a big reason the Utes even reached the Rose Bowl, and he'll undoubtedly be a reason they play in another bowl game next season.