Notebook: Jaxon Smith-Njigba returns for Ohio State football but leaves game limping
Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba made his much-anticipated return from a hamstring injury in its 54-10 win over Iowa on Saturday afternoon.
But Smith-Njigba it was not a long one.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day downplayed any aggravation of his hamstring, contending Smith-Njigba came into the game on a "pitch count" and the staff expected him to be restricted to about 20 or so plays. Day said he had reached that limit in the first half.
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He pulled up while running a route to catch up to an overthrown pass by quarterback C.J. Stroud in the second quarter and walked off the field slowly.
It appeared as if he re-aggravated his injured hamstring during the sequence. He spoke with trainers on the sideline and went through a stretching routine, but he never returned.
"He was right in that range," Day said, "and once he got to that number on that drive, that was it."
Before being pulled from the game, he had caught only one pass while being targeted by Stroud three times.
Smith-Njigba hurt his hamstring in the season-opening win over Notre Dame and came back two weeks later for the Buckeyes’ final non-conference game against Toledo, but that return was also a brief one.
He had only two receptions for 33 yards against the Rockets as he played only 23 snaps.
Since the Buckeyes went through the non-conference slate, Smith-Njigba had missed their first three games against Big Ten teams.
It appeared as if he was primed for a larger role against Iowa as he was reinserted into the starting lineup, going out as the slot receiver with Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. positioned out wide.
Egbuka, though, continued to return punts in place of him against the Hawkeyes.
The idle week following the first half of the season had afforded Smith-Njigba, who set the Big Ten single-season receiving yards record in a breakout season as a sophomore last fall, an additional week of rest.
He had been practicing in the days leading up to kickoff Saturday.
First defensive touchdown for Buckeyes
The Buckeyes recorded their first defensive touchdown of the season late in the second quarter when linebacker Tommy Eichenberg picked off a pass thrown by Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras and returned it 15 yards into the end zone.
Petras attempted to dump off a pass to running back Leshon Williams, who slipped out of the backfield and positioned himself over a middle slice of the field. But the ball missed Williams badly and went directly into the hands of Eichenberg.
It was the first turnover generated by Eichenberg this fall and the first since he picked off the first pass of his career at Rutgers last season.
Eichenberg said it was also his first-ever pick-six, spanning back to high school at St. Ignatius in Cleveland.
"The ball just came to me," Eichenberg said.
Ohio State long snapper Bradley Robinson injured
Long snapper Bradley Robinson injured his right knee following a punt early in the third quarter. He was examined by trainers in a medical tent on the sideline and left assisted by crutches. His right knee was wrapped in ice.
Robinson has snapped on field goals and extra points, as well as punts, for the Buckeyes since 2020 and returned for his seventh season of eligibility this fall.
Mason Arnold, who joined the program as a walk-on last season, took over the long snapper in his place.
CB Cameron Brown out for Ohio State
The Buckeyes reshuffled their starting secondary as cornerback Cameron Brown was sidelined for the third time in four games with an undisclosed injury.
Redshirt freshman JK Johnson started at the cornerback spot opposite Denzel Burke.
While Brown was out, the position group did have Jordan Hancock available for the first time this season. Hancock, also a redshirt freshman, has been unavailable since preseason training camp because of an apparent lower body injury.
Hancock made his debut late in the first quarter. Though he saw limited snaps as a reserve, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was left encouraged.
"He changes things," Knowles said. "He just adds to the competition, gives us a lot more depth, and the other guys play a lot freer to when he's around."
Ohio State plays with extra linebacker
To counteract some of Iowa's heavy tight-end formations, the Buckeyes at times paired Cody Simon as an additional linebacker along with Steele Chambers and Eichenberg.
Knowles said Simon "did very well" in the role.
"We've been planning for this," Knowles said. "We have to morph the defense when it gets into bigger personnel with multiple tight ends and fullbacks, and Cody was the guy. He's earned that right by how he's practiced. It was good to see him in a significant role, because he can add a lot to the defense."
Ohio State safety Kourt Williams has long-term injury
Kourt Williams, a reserve safety who was voted one of six team captains, was seen on the sideline with his right arm in a sling.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said Thursday that Williams had suffered a long-term injury and didn’t offer a timetable for a potential return.
“Not sure exactly when he'll be back,” Day said.
Mike Doss recognized by Buckeyes
Former Ohio State safety Mike Doss was recognized at midfield between the first and second quarters.
Doss, a three-time All-American who was a captain on the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship-winning team, is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman