With Garrett Wilson out, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has career day for Ohio State
LINCOLN, Neb. — Jaxon Smith-Njigba stopped running his curl route at Ohio State’s 30-yard line, turned around and brought in a pass from quarterback C.J. Stroud.
But he was only about to take off.
Smith-Njigba shot forward a few yards, then juked past Nebraska safety Myles Farmer, looking as if he might bolt to his right and head toward the midfield logo at Memorial Stadium before shuffling back to the sideline to complete the nifty move.
After picking up a block from fellow receiver Chris Olave, he was gone.
"Chris did a great job blocking downfield, man," Smith-Njigba said. "I really appreciate him."
The 75-yard touchdown catch was among a series of highlights for Smith-Njigba in the Buckeyes’ 26-17 victory at Nebraska on Saturday afternoon.
With a passing game left to deal with the absence of star receiver Garrett Wilson, who missed a game for the first time in his college career, the sophomore receiver was a big part of the aggressive aerial attack.
Stroud targeted Smith-Njigba 18 times. He caught 15 of those passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.
"I just try to be there when they need me," he said. "I'm just a small piece. C.J., we have a nice little chemistry going. With offensive line protection, he can just give me the ball. It's been working out."
While shouldering much of the load for the offense that at times looked stuck in a malaise in a messy win, Smith-Njigba carved out a spot for himself in the record books.
The 15 receptions broke a single-game school record set by David Boston against Penn State in 1997 when he caught 14 passes.
Smith-Njigba’s 240 receiving yards were also the second-most ever in a game by a Buckeye, trailing only Terry Glenn who finished with 253 against Pittsburgh in 1995.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day left particularly impressed by Smith-Njigba’s toughness. He was sidelined for a stretch in the third quarter with cramps.
It prompted Olave to move into the slot in his place, while sophomore Julian Fleming and freshman Marvin Harrison Jr. filled in as the outside receivers.
Smith-Njigba ultimately returned late in the third quarter and caught six passes for 74 yards over the final 20 minutes.
"Not only did he perform," Day said, "he was gritty out there for us."
The timeline for Wilson's return remains unclear. Day expressed optimism that he might be back for next weekend's game against Purdue, but only termed him "day-to-day" and didn't offer details surrounding his absence.
If Wilson remains out, leaving Smith-Njigba as a focal point for the offense, his chemistry with Stroud should again help.
The two of them were close on the recruiting trail before enrolling at Ohio State last year and built a successful game plan for Saturday's win in the practices leading up to kickoff.
"Jaxon did a great job the whole week of communicating with me of what he likes and what I like," Stroud said.
Without the connection, the Buckeyes might have had a wayward offense at Nebraska.
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.
The College Football Playoff top 25
Ohio State is in a good spot in the first rankings, which will be updated every Tuesday until the selection show on Dec. 5, the day after the Big Ten Championship Game.
Here is the top 25 College Football Playoff rankings this week.
- Georgia 8-0
- Alabama 7-1
- Michigan State 8-0
- Oregon 7-1
- Ohio State 7-1
- Cincinnati 8-0
- Michigan 7-1
- Oklahoma 9-0
- Wake Forest 8-0
- Notre Dame 7-1
- Oklahoma State 7-1
- Baylor 7-1
- Auburn 6-2
- Texas A&M 6-2
- BYU 7-2
- Ole Miss 6-2
- Mississippi State 5-3
- Kentucky 6-2
- NC State 6-2
- Minnesota 6-2
- Wisconsin 5-3
- Iowa 6-2
- Fresno State 7-2
- San Diego State 7-1
- Pittsburgh 6-2
2021 Ohio State Buckeye football schedule
Here is a look at the Ohio State schedule.
- Sept. 2: Ohio State 45, Minnesota 31
- Sept. 11: Oregon 35, Ohio State 28
- Sept. 18: Ohio State 41, Tulsa 20
- Sept. 25: Ohio State 59, Akron 7
- Oct. 2: Ohio State 52, Rutgers 13
- Oct. 9: Ohio State 66, Maryland 17
- Oct. 23: Ohio State 54, Indiana 7
- Oct. 30: Ohio State 33, Penn State 24
- Nov. 6: at Nebraska, noon
- Nov. 13: Purdue, TBA
- Nov. 20: Michigan State, TBA
- Nov. 27: at Michigan, 12 p.m., FOX