PASADENA (News4usonline) – It’s hard to believe that both UCLA and USC let C. J. Stroud leave their backyard.
The Ohio State quarterback didn’t win the Heisman Trophy for his play this season. But he will for sure be in the running to snatch away the best college football player in the country award from Alabama quarterback Bryce Young next season.
After looking at his dazzling 573-yard and six-touchdown performance against Utah to lead the Buckeyes to a wild 48-45 win over the Utes in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One Venture X, you can almost count on that.
But as good leaders do, Stroud didn’t make his postgame comments about himself. He gave that praise to others, including teammate and wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba, who also had a record-setting day. Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes from Stroud and turned them into 347 yards in receiving to go along with three touchdowns.
First of all, I want to give all glory to God,” Stroud said. “We built that connection probably all the way back — we came in as freshmen together, came in early. We were throwing at the line the first day. Scout team last year, we really built it. This doesn’t surprise me at all. When I heard the numbers, I didn’t really notice because he does this all the time.”
Stroud continued: “I’m just blessed to be around guys like this. Me or him doesn’t have a good game without our O-linemen. Our O-line played their butts off. I don’t think I got sacked once. Our running backs ran the ball well. Tight ends played very well. And the young guys, Marvin and Julian, played really well as well. When you put all those things together, I feel like we need to keep going.”
Statistically, Stroud was having a magical season as a redshirt freshman. The former Rancho Cucamonga High School star came into the Rose Bowl Game as the best performing freshman quarterback in the country with 3,862 yards passing and 38 touchdowns.
As the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, Stroud was the ringleader for the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (45 points per game) and the top team in total offense (551 yards per game). Those numbers didn’t really hold water for Stroud and the Buckeyes after they got humbled by Michigan in the Big Ten Conference title game.
The win by Michigan catapulted the Wolverines to the No. 2 ranking and a spot in the College Football Playoff Final Four. Stroud and the Buckeyes got the Rose Bowl Game. Stroud actually had a pretty good day in the loss to the Wolverines, throwing for nearly 400 yards (394 yards and two touchdowns). But losing to the team’s biggest rival didn’t sit well with Stroud as he talked about his Rose Bowl Game performance.
“I think what motivated us wasn’t just this game, but the previous game,” Stroud said. “I know that was my motivation, just getting that bad taste out of our team’s mouth and ending the season the right way and sending our seniors off the right way. That was probably the most important thing for me.”
Stroud continued: “Then on top of that, this is the Rose Bowl, man. This is where the legendary games are being played. If you aren’t motivated to play, I question your love of the game. Every game I go out there, I try to do my best and make sure I prepare the right way and do the right things because you never know what can happen in the game. My job is to lead the team, lead our offense, and I’ve got to watch — I have to do everything I need to do to lead our offense on the field.”
What also could have been a motivator for Stroud to play at a premium level was the fact that Utah threatened to send the Buckeyes home with an embarrassing loss as the Utes jumped out front with a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and put up nearly three dozen points in the first half to walk into the locker room at intermission with a 35-21 advantage.
Stroud, Smith-Njigba and the Buckeyes scored 27 points in the second half, including the game-winning field goal by Noah Ruggles with nine seconds left in the game. Utah (10-3) came into the game, giving up just 195 passing yards per game. The Utes wound up surrendering 683 yards in total offense to Ohio State. So much for numbers.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham couldn’t do anything but give credit to Stroud and the way he played.
“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.”
Whittingham and the Utes also got a firsthand look at the play-making abilities of Smith-Njigba, who riddled their secondary the entire game. When Stroud and the Buckeyes needed a big play, Smith-Njigba seemed to be the right man at the right time to make the right play all game for the Buckeyes.
After Utah went up with their double-digit lead, Stroud found Smith-Njigba twice for long touchdowns (50, 52 yards) to keep the Buckeyes in the ballgame.
As it turns out, he was just getting started. The number of receiving yards that Smith-Njigba put out now represents a new Rose Bowl Game record, surpassing the 308 yards that Jason Rivers of Hawai’i accumulated in the 2006 Hawai’i Bowl. Afterward, Smith-Njigba was named as the 108th Rose Bowl Game Player of the Game on offense.
Smith-Njigba was asked what does having the most yards in bowl history meant to him. His reply centered on appreciation more than anything else.
“What does it mean? I mean, it’s just a blessing,” Smith-Njigba said. “I’ve got to give all things to God. Without him, nothing’s possible. Got to give thanks to Coach and C.J., of course, for giving me opportunities. And the O-line. It’s not just me. I couldn’t have done it without them. I just try to take in every moment every time the ball’s in the air. I feel like I did that today. So it’s a blessing.”
Featured Image Caption: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) prepares to go downfield with a pass against the Utah Utes in the 108th Rose Bowl Game. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline
Dennis has covered and written about politics, crime, social justice, sports, and entertainment. Dennis currently covers the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, and Olympic sports. Dennis is the editor of News4usonline.com and serves as the publisher of the Compton Bulletin newspaper. He earned a journalism degree from Howard University.