Ohio State’s Best Individual Bowl Performances

By Matt Gutridge on December 24, 2022 at 10:10 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba and C.J. Stroud

Since the first day of 1921, Ohio State has played in 54 bowl games. With one week to go until the Peach Bowl, we take a look at the best individual rushing, passing and receiving performances in those postseason battles.

Bowl game rushing leaders

2021 Sugar Bowl • Trey Sermon

A season removed from the controversial loss to Clemson in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State was given another shot at the nemesis from South Carolina. Trey Sermon was coming off of a school-record 331 rushing yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and comparisons to Ezekiel Elliott's 2014 post-season run were being discussed. 

The transfer player from Oklahoma lived up to the comparisons as he gashed Dabo Sweeney's Tigers for 193 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes' 49-28 Sugar Bowl victory. Unfortunately, Sermon was unable to complete the trifecta as he was injured on the first snap of the game in the loss to Alabama in the 2021 CFP Championship Game. 

2015 Sugar Bowl • Ezekiel Elliott

Bowl Game Leading Rushers
Bowl Game Player Stats
1993 Holiday Bowl Raymont Harris 39 carries, 235 yards, 3 TD
2015 Sugar Bowl  Ezekiel Elliott 20 carries, 230 yards, 2 TD
2021 Sugar Bowl Trey Sermon 31 carries, 193 yards, 1 TD
2019 Fiesta Bowl J.K. Dobbins 18 carries, 174 yards, 1 TD
2016 Fiesta Bowl Ezekiel Elliott 27 carries, 149 yards, 4 TD

Speaking of Zeke, Alabama was in the background of his 85-yard run through the heart of the South. Elliott's 230 yards and two scores were critical in Ohio State's 42-35 victory over the Crimson Tide in the 2015 semifinal matchup in New Orleans.

Following the upset over No. 1 Alabama, Elliott rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns against Oregon in the CFP National Championship Game. This performance capped off a three-game stretch in which Elliott rushed for a program-record 703 yards.

Note: The 246 yards against Oregon is an Ohio State post-season record but does not count as a bowl game record.

1993 Holiday Bowl • Raymont Harris

John Cooper was still winless against Michigan and in bowl games. On this 66-degree December evening in San Diego, Ohio State turned to Raymont Harris 39 times in the 28-21 victory. The running back from Lorain scored the Buckeyes' final three touchdowns and pounded out 235 yards on the ground for a then-program bowl record.

Although there was disappointment that Ohio State did not play in the Rose Bowl – thanks to a stunning shutout loss to Michigan – Cooper finally picked up his first postseason win as coach of the Buckeyes. It only required Harris to rush for a Holiday Bowl record, which still stands today.  

Bowl game passing leaders

2006 Fiesta Bowl • Troy Smith

Leading into the game, the focus was on the passing prowess and Notre Dame's offense. Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes quickly proved Ohio State's aerial assault to be superior. 

In the first half, Smith connected with Ginn for a 56-yard touchdown then hit Holmes for an 85-yard score giving Ohio State a 21-7 halftime lead. Smith finished with 19 completions for a game-high 342 yards. At the time, the 342 passing yards were an Ohio State bowl record.

2021 Sugar Bowl • Justin Fields

In a matchup featuring two quarterbacks that were months away from becoming NFL first-round draft picks, Justin Fields bested Trevor Lawrence. The Georgia transfer guided Buckeyes to the program's first victory over Clemson after falling just short the year prior. 

Bowl Game Leading Passers
Bowl Game Player Stats
2022 Rose Bowl C.J. Stroud 37/46 for 573 yards, 6 TD
2021 Sugar Bowl Justin Fields 22/28 for 385 yards, 6 TD 
2006 Fiesta Bowl Troy Smith 19/28 for 342 yards, 2 TD
2019 Fiesta Bowl Justin Fields 30/46 for 320 yards, 1 TD
2002 Outback Bowl Steve Bellisari 21/35 for 320 yards, 2 TD

Following a back-and-forth first quarter, Fields tossed two touchdown passes to Jeremy Ruckert and another to Chris Olave giving Ohio State a comfortable 35-14 halftime lead. After Clemson pulled to within 14 points at the mid-point of the third quarter, Fields connected with Chris Olave and Jameson Williams to shut the door on a comeback from the Tigers. 

When the final whistle blew, Fields finished the game with a then-Ohio State bowl record 385 passing yards and six touchdowns.

2022 Rose Bowl • C.J. Stroud

Falling behind by 14 points to Utah multiple times in the first half was the perfect backdrop for C.J. Stroud to shatter Ohio State's bowl game passing records. It also didn't hurt that the Utes had a makeshift pass defense that included a running back starting at cornerback.

The perfect storm led to Stroud smacking Utah's secondary for 573 yards and 37 completions. Not only did Stroud rack up the yards, but he was also accurate. Only nine of his 46 attempts didn't connect as Stroud set the program bowl record by completing 80.4 percent of his passes. 

Ohio State needed Stroud's record-setting performance to come away from Pasadena with the 48-45 roller coaster victory.

Bowl game receiving leaders

2006 Fiesta Bowl • Ted Ginn Jr.

One of Ohio State's most dynamic players ever, Ted Ginn Jr. eclipsed 100 receiving yards five times during his time in Columbus. The 2006 Fiesta Bowl was the backdrop for the speedy receiver's best performance as a wideout. 

Ginn gashed the Irish for 167 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. The Buckeyes' first score came on the team's opening drive when Ginn zoomed past Notre Dame's Ambrose Wooden for a 56-yard bomb. The big play ignited Ohio State's offense for three straight big-play touchdowns. 

The Buckeyes' second touchdown was provided by Ginn's legs. Early in the second quarter, Ohio State faced a 3rd-and-9 on its own 14 and Troy Smith found Ginn for 18 yards and a critical first down. On the next snap, the speedster took a reverse pitch 68 yards to break the 7-7 tie.

Six of Ginn's eight receptions were for 16 or more yards and he finished with 240 yards from scrimmage in the 34-20 victory. Ginn and Holmes (124 yards) marked the second time two Buckeyes eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the same bowl game. 

Bowl Game Leading Receivers
Bowl Game Player Stats
2022 Rose Bowl Jaxon Smith-Njigba 15 catches, 347 yards, 3 TD
1985 Rose Bowl Cris Carter 9 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD
2006 Fiesta Bowl Ted Ginn Jr. 8 catches, 167 yards, 1 TD
2002 Outback Bowl Michael Jenkins 8 catches, 152 yards
1995 Citrus Bowl Joey Galloway 8 catches, 146 yards, 2 TD

1985 Rose Bowl • Cris Carter

Of the nine performances highlighted in this piece, Cris Carter’s is the only one to be produced in a losing effort.

On New Year’s Day 1985, Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes faced USC. With the San Gabriel Mountains in the backdrop, Carter became the first Ohio State receiver to snag nine catches in a bowl game. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer also set the then-school bowl and Rose Bowl record with 172 receiving yards. A record that stood for 27 years. 

With the Buckeyes trailing 20-9 in the fourth quarter, Carter's 18-yard touchdown catch made the score 20-17 following Mike Tomczak's 2-point conversion run. But Ohio State wasn't able to pull off the comeback after the offense’s final drive stalled on downs in USC territory.

2022 Rose Bowl • Jaxon Smith-Njigba

A game for the ages is what Jaxon Smith-Njigba provided in the 2022 Rose Bowl. His 347 receiving yards were not only an Ohio State bowl and single-game record, but also the most receiving yards for any player in any bowl game in college football history.

Not only did JSN pile on the yards against Utah, but he also snagged an Ohio State bowl-record 15 passes. The 15 receptions also tied the program record he set against Nebraska earlier in the 2022 season.  

If breaking the bowl game receiving yards and reception records weren't enough, Smith-Njigba completed the bowl game record trifecta with his three receiving touchdowns – tying Marvin Harrison Jr. who caught his third touchdown pass of the game earlier in the fourth quarter. The dynamic receivers also became the first Buckeyes to catch three touchdown passes in the same game.  

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