Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba had one of the most epic Rose Bowl performances of all time — literally one for the record books — on Saturday as No. 6 Ohio State won a 48-45 thriller over No. 11 Utah. Most notably, Smith-Njigba set an FBS bowl game record with 347 yards receiving as he accounted for 15 catches and three touchdowns during the Buckeyes’ prolific effort that included 683 total yards of offense.
Smith-Njigba was on the receiving end of 60.6% of Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s 573 yards passing. In catching those 15 balls and amassing those 347 yards, he also set new Ohio State records for receptions in a season (95) and yards receiving (1,606).
For a player who caught just 10 passes as a true freshman during Ohio State’s pandemic-shortened season in 2020, the performance capped a breakout season that few outside of Columbus, Ohio, saw coming.
With star receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave back for 2021 after dominant 2020 campaigns, Smith-Njigba seemed likely to play a complementary role as a sophomore. Instead, he became a star.
Smith-Njigba’s breakout came in a loss against Oregon on Sept. 11 when he finished with seven receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. But it was in November when the former five-star prospect truly emerged as a superstar. In four games during the month, he caught an astounding 45 passes, surpassing 100 yards receiving in each contest.
With Olave and Wilson opting out of the Rose Bowl, Smith-Njigba had his best game yet. His first touchdown Saturday was a 50-yarder with 8:32 left in the second quarter that brought the Buckeyes within 21-14. Then, just 30 seconds later — and after Utah reclaimed momentum with a 97-yard Britain Covey kickoff return for touchdown — he struck again with a 52-yard score.
Finally, with 4:22 left, his 30-yard touchdown reception gave Ohio State its first lead of the game at 45-38. In between there were myriad other big plays from Smith-Njigba, who accounted for 10 first downs and did not register a single drop.