Buckeye receiving corps goes beyond top two
There were very few bright spots to come from No. 9 Ohio State’s loss to No. 4 Oregon.
While the Buckeyes’ defense struggled to produce stops until late in the game, redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud kept Ohio State in striking distance throughout Saturday’s contest. Most notably, the first-year starter forged a connection with fellow class of 2020 member Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Following the game, Stroud emphasized how important Smith-Njigba is to him and the Ohio State offense.
“He’s a dog. He’s a great receiver. He’s somebody I can rely on just like the rest of the two receivers. He definitely made plays when his number was called,” Stroud said. “I appreciate him a lot. He has trust in me. He’s really the reason I’m here at Ohio State.”
Prior to their arrival at Ohio State, Stroud and Smith-Njigba were already familiar with one another as they crossed paths on the recruiting circuit numerous times. Both competed for the West in the 2020 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, helping them to a 33-20 win.
Saturday, their contributions nearly pulled Ohio State out of a double-digit hole.
Smith-Njigba hauled in seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns off of the arm of Stroud, in what was undoubtedly his best performance in the Scarlet and Gray.
The Rockwall, Texas, native nearly tripled his yardage output from his freshman season — where he had a total of 49 receiving yards — Saturday, while more than tripling his previous single-game high of two catches.
Although it was a breakout performance for Smith-Njigba, it didn’t push the needle in the Buckeyes’ favor.
“It’s hard to celebrate my individual accolade after a tough loss like this,” Smith-Njigba said. “It feels good, but I want to win. I’m ready for next week.”
Both of Stroud and Smith-Njigba’s scoring connections cut 14-point Oregon leads in half, including a fourth-quarter score where Stroud found an open Smith-Njigba who beat two Ducks to the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score.
As Saturday was the result of an improved connection with Stroud, Smith-Njigba said his quarterback has been encouraging him every step of the way.
“He was in my ear just saying, ‘Stay alive. It’s going to come.’ Coaches, too, were saying it was going to come,” Smith-Njigba said. “I just stay on my path and try to do the best I can.”
For Stroud, Saturday’s performance was equally fruitful, as the first-year starter was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week. The Empire, California, native completed 35-of-54 attempts for 484 yards and three touchdowns.
Stroud’s only blemish came late in the fourth quarter, when he threw in an interception to Oregon safety Verone McKinley III at the Ducks’ 35-yard line.
“Just rushed it on my part. Definitely should’ve took a little more time and executed the play,” Stroud said. “Chris (Olave) did a great job of executing a scramble drill. I just have to put it on him, as simple as that.”
While the Buckeyes look ahead to a tune-up game against Tulsa, Stroud reaffirmed to Buckeyes’ fans that they will get their deficiencies fixed going forward.
“We’re not going to press, we’re going to stick together. We’re not going to point fingers,” Stroud said. “It starts on my behalf to lead the team as a quarterback. Definitely, I feel like I will do my part to get us back to where we need to be.”