For a game that some branded “meaningless,” Saturday’s Ohio State win in the Rose Bowl felt rather momentous when the clocks hit zero.
The Buckeyes rallied back from a 14-point deficit at halftime, and both a defensive turnaround and record-setting pair of performances from C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba spurred on a victory that helped wash the bad taste of last month’s Michigan loss out of the Buckeyes’ mouths.
When breaking down the contest, starting anywhere besides Smith-Njigba’s FBS bowl record (and new single-game Buckeye high) 347 receiving yards would simply feel disingenuous. Buckeye head coach Ryan Day heaped plenty of praise on the star sophomore after the game, and said the 15-catch, three-touchdown showing was one of the best in the history of the Rose Bowl.
“I think Jaxon’s done what he’s done all year, and that’s just play within himself. Certainly some of the plays he made tonight was tremendous. We leaned on him a lot,” Day said. “At one point I asked him, are you tired? On the play there where Clark caught him, he looked at me like what are you asking me for? Are you crazy? I’m going back out there. And played one of the best games probably in the history of the Rose Bowl.”
For Smith-Njigba, the performance that earned him the Rose Bowl’s Offensive MVP award capped off a surreal night in Pasadena.
“It’s the type of game that I dreamed of,” Smith-Njigba. “I wouldn’t want it any other way, so for that to happen, I’m just blessed.”
Day also credited his Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback, as C.J. Stroud finished the night with a new Ohio State record 573 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
“I also thought C.J. and (Smith-Njigba) just have a great connection.They have a great feel, and I think there’s a lot of trust there that’s been built over the year,” Day said. “I think it happened a little bit in that Nebraska game. Who knows? You have to ask them. Maybe it happened last year, I don’t know. But they read each other really well, and they’ve got a special connection. The throw on the touchdown pass, the inside slot fade, the throw and the catch there is probably as good as I’ve ever seen in a big time spot.”
After the game, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham agreed with one reporter who asked him if Stroud was the best quarterback in the country.
“I would say that’s probably accurate. The kid is tremendous,” Whittingham said. “Like I said, the QBR, the quarterback rating system that ESPN uses, which in my estimation is the most accurate and the most telling of statistics for determining how well your quarterback’s playing, he leads the nation. I think you saw it tonight why.”
The second half turnaround was reminiscent of Ohio State’s comeback win in the 2019 Big Ten Championship Game, in which the Buckeyes came back from a two-touchdown halftime deficit. And much…