It was another beautiful setting in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains on New Year’s Day, just as the Rose Bowl always is, and it was made even more beautiful by how the game finished. Ohio State won an all-time classic 48-45 in a game that could have easily gone the other way. We like to pull out five things from the game that are knee-jerk takeaways every game, and we’re doing the same here.
There’s a lot of layers to this one, and a lot of back and forth, so there’s plenty to talk about, plenty to remember, and things we will be discussing for days.
For starters though, here are five things we learned after the epic win by Ohio State over Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Down but not out
Raise your hand if you thought this game was going in the direction of a loss? If you didn’t then you are an eternal optimist. The Buckeyes came out flat on both sides of the ball and dug themselves a huge hole.
However, the passing game started to get on track, and then the defense seemed to make adjustments in focus and desire in the second half, holding Utah to just ten points in the last 30 minutes to will this one away for an-all-time classic folks will be talking about for years. There wasn’t any quit in this team, and it just kept punching all the way to the end.
C.J. Stroud may have set himself up for the Heisman frontrunner next season
C.J. Stroud came out a little slow the first two drives, but from there it was pure magic. He finished the contest with 573 yards on 37 of 46 (.804) passes and six touchdowns.
It was the most yards and most touchdowns thrown for in a Rose Bowl, and he had command of an offense that was humming because of his ability to conduct it to precision. He probably put himself at the highest perch of Heisman hopefuls for 2022.
Sticking with the running game paid off
Ohio State’s running game isn’t giving it much. TreVeyon Henderson is stuffed on third and short, and instead of running again on fourth down, the Buckeyes go to the air with C.J. Stroud hitting Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 25-yard touchdown.
— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) January 1, 2022
For the second straight game, Ohio State couldn’t get anything going on the ground — at least early. However, in the second half, things started to loosen up a little. Maybe it was because Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are still playing catch with each other late into the night, but the offensive line began to open holes and make space for TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams.
It wasn’t a clinic by any means on the ground, finishing with just 110 yards rushing overall, but when the Buckeyes needed to lean on Utah a little when the game was on the line, it was able to. The difference is that Day stuck with the running game instead of completely abandoning it.
The defense though
Worst #OhioState defense I’ve ever watched. And we watched both 2013 and 2018 recently. Jim Knowles can’t start soon enough
— Alex Gleitman (@alexgleitman) January 1, 2022
It wasn’t all chocolates and roses for Ohio State. The defense was an absolute wreck in the first half, giving up 35 points and several big plays that made it look like the offense was going to have to carry the load. Thankfully, Stroud and Njigba were clicking or this one could have been over.
The Buckeyes were able to get the Utes in arm’s reach but there are still massive changes that need to occur on the defensive side of the ball. Help is on the way with three stud freshman linebackers, a new defensive coordinator in Jim Knowles, and a defensive backfield that should be a much more experienced one.
This was a fun game, but it didn’t need to be. Hopefully, OSU’s defense looks more like a championship one than this season, because you can’t just simply outscore opponents each time out.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a stud
Yeah, we’re stating the obvious here, but Jaxon Smith-Njigba was unguardable today. Ohio State flexed him all over the field and used him to be the game-breaker. Fifteen catches, 347-yards, and three touchdowns later, and he’s the talk of the day.
It’s not just one thing he does well either. He runs crisp routes, has smooth and subtle moves, and can wiggle his way through defenses to turn an ordinary pass into a long touchdown. He’s going to be a problem next year. He was already this season.