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Smith-Njigba, Stroud smash records in Rose Bowl

8:24 PM ET

  • Tom VanHaarenESPN Staff Writer

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    • ESPN staff writer
    • Joined ESPN in 2011
    • Graduated from Central Michigan

It was a record-breaking day for Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and quarterback C.J. Stroud in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Capital One Venture X.

The Buckeyes broke or tied eight Rose Bowl records, as well as a few Ohio State records, on Saturday in a 48-45 victory over Utah.

Smith-Njigba set several records on his own after finishing with 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The 347 receiving yards were the most in a bowl game in FBS history as well as the most in a game in Buckeyes history, while the 15 catches were a Rose Bowl record. The wideout also tied the Rose Bowl mark for receiving touchdowns along with teammate Marvin Harrison Jr., who also had three receiving touchdowns in the game, and set the Ohio State receiving-yard record for a season.

Stroud broke the Rose Bowl record for passing yards and touchdowns after going 37-of-46 for 573 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.

Stroud said he wasn’t surprised by Smith-Njigba’s performance, because he has seen him do it all season, in practice and in games. Smith-Njigba had 240 yards receiving against Nebraska earlier in the year, and with his performance on Saturday, Smith-Njigba became the only Ohio State receiver to ever have multiple 200-yard receiving games.

“We built that connection probably all the way back to like, we came in as freshman together, came in early, we were throwing at the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center] our first day,” Stroud said. “Then scout team last year is like when we really built it.”

The team did all of this despite not having leading receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, both projected as first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft. The Buckeyes found themselves down 35-21 at halftime, but found a way to score 27 points in the second half.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said leaders on the team stepped up in the locker room at the half, similar to what happened in the 2019 Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. Day said he’ll leave what was said in the locker room, some of which he might not be able to repeat anyway, but that the leaders on the team stepped up.

“I’m just very proud of the coaching staff, the players and the leaders of this team for playing the way we did, especially in the second half and winning this game,” Day said after the game. “We were short-handed, and there were some guys who weren’t here today. And for us to respond the way we did at halftime and then come out and play in the second half says a lot about the character of this team to win this game.”

Smith-Njigba smashed Terry Glenn’s school record of 253 yards, set against Pitt in 1995. He also easily surpassed Keyshawn Johnson‘s previous Rose Bowl record of 216 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the sophomore’s huge performance put him at 1,606 receiving yards for the season, breaking David Boston’s previous single-season school record of 1,435 yards in 1998.

“I just try to take advantage every time the ball is in the air, and I feel like I did that today,” Smith-Njigba said.

Stroud’s 573 passing yards are third-most ever in a bowl game and also the second-most in any game in Big Ten history. Dave Wilson had 621 for Illinois in 1980 against Ohio State.

It wasn’t all Ohio State in the game, though, as Utah led early, then made a comeback late in the game with backup quarterback Bryson Barnes, who hadn’t thrown a pass all season.

Utah starting quarterback Cameron Rising left with an apparent head injury with 9:56 left in the game, but his initial evaluation wasn’t concerning, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.

“He’s doing fine now according to what the postgame report was, unless there’s something that materializes that we don’t know about,” Whittingham said.

Barnes led the Utes to a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Buckeyes. The halftime rally and the leadership from the players pushed Ohio State ahead.

With Stroud being a freshman and Smith-Njigba being a sophomore, Day looked at this game as a positive for next season, saying it made him realize the team is in good hands with young leaders who have already taken over.

“As we springboard into this offseason, that’s the part that we’re really going to go back upon in this game, is the leadership that drove us in the second half that we weren’t going to be denied, and two of them are sitting right here,” Day said. “And if we want to get to where we want to be next year, we certainly have, it’s a long way away from now, but I’m already thinking about that first game and what that means is the leadership from these two guys has got to really springboard. Especially the way they played in the second half of this game, but really the entire game, is really going to build some momentum.”

ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura contributed to this report.

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