Ryan Day expects Jaxon Smith-Njigba to be back on the field sooner than later.
During an appearance on Big Ten Network on Monday afternoon, the Ohio State head coach said Smith-Njigba’s injury is “not a long-term thing,” and he remains hopeful the Buckeyes’ star wide receiver will be available to play this Saturday against Arkansas State.
“We’re evaluating him this week and hoping to have him back this Saturday,” Day said. “Having him as part of our offense is a big deal. He makes such an impact. Not too many guys you can say at the wide receiver makes everybody else on the field better, but Jaxon does. It was great to see some guys step up in his absence, but yeah, it’s not a long-term thing and we’ll evaluate him throughout the week.”
Smith-Njigba suffered a lower-body injury during the first quarter of Saturday’s win over Notre Dame when he took a big hit at the sideline from Fighting Irish safety Brandon Joseph. Although Smith-Njigba later returned to the game in both the second and third quarter, he was visibly hampered by the injury and played only one series in the third quarter before heading to the sidelines for the remainder of the game.
While Day did not specify what Smith-Njigba’s injury is, 247Sports’ Chris Hummer reported Sunday that the Buckeye pass-catcher suffered a “low-grade hamstring injury.”
Hummer reported Smith-Njigba “is expected to miss a game or two,” but Day hopes Smith-Njigba won’t have to miss any games at all. The Buckeyes clearly missed having him on the field and healthy on Saturday, as they scored only 21 points, the fewest they’ve scored in any game since Day became head coach.
Ohio State will have to consider, however, whether it’s actually smart for Smith-Njigba to play this week – or next week against Toledo – even if he is cleared to return by Saturday. The Buckeyes are unlikely to need Smith-Njigba to put up big numbers in either of their next two games – Arkansas State allowed the second-most yards per game among all FBS teams last season – but will certainly want to have him fully healthy when they begin Big Ten play against Wisconsin, which allowed the fewest yards per game of any FBS team in 2021, on Sept. 24.
Additional notes from Day’s BTN appearance on Monday:
- What he learned about his team on Saturday night: “We learned a lot. This offseason, we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to establish a run game, stop the run and learn how to win like we did Saturday night. And to see us do that, win that style of game. It was clear what Notre Dame’s game plan was going in. They wanted to control the game, limit the possessions, run the football. And so we talked about in the offseason, we have to find ways to win those styles of games. And while it certainly wasn’t as clean as we would have liked it to been at times, for the first game, a top-five team, with so much buildup going into it, to see the way we played in the fourth quarter was tremendous.”
- “I think we’ve proven that we can play tough. I think we’ve proven we can stop the run, and we’ve proven that we can run the football. So now it’s a matter of are we able to do it each week.” Day noted that it was the fourth game in a row dating back to last year that Ohio State has played a top-12-ranked team.
- On dealing with the outside noise: “We’re not gonna listen to what other people think and take that to heart, but we also have to take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what we need to improve on year in and year out, game in and game out, and do an honest assessment on where we’re at. And we did some really good things last year, we played really well at times, we did stop the run at times, we did run the ball at times, but we didn’t do it consistent enough to where we needed to be.”
- “We know that a lot of teams we play, their game plan is to limit the possessions, run the football, control the clock and try to keep our offense off the field. So when we‘re playing in that style of a game, we have to play the way we did on Saturday night.”
- Day said he and the rest of the offensive staff talked during Saturday’s halftime about how they needed to convert on third downs, which he thinks is what got the Buckeyes side-tracked against Notre Dame.
- On C.J. Stroud: “I think his No. 1 goal and expectation going into this game was to win the game, and because of that, he was able to play his best football in the fourth quarter when we didn‘t quite get into a rhythm like we typically do on offense. And that says a lot about C.J. ... Maybe last year, he would have maybe panicked a little bit, I don’t know. But he certainly didn’t on Saturday night, and he led us to victory.”
- On Xavier Johnson: “Xavier Johnson came in and really cut his teeth on special teams. Starts on all four. He got moved from running back, he actually played some DB at one point and he just continued to get better every single day. And I think he's a tribute to how special teams can make you a better football player ... In today's day and age where you know the transfer portal is enticing to a lot of people, he hung in there. Because Xavier could have played in a lot of different places, but in the big moment on Saturday night, he was there.”
- On Johnson’s kickoff return tackle after his touchdown: “If that doesn't say enough about his heart and what he means to this team, nothing does. So happy for him, and he's gonna be a good player for us this season.”
- On Saturday night’s defensive performance: “I think you could see the guys playing with a lot of energy. They were decisive out there, they were playing fast as a team. It’s just a start but I think you can see the capability moving forward and the potential.”
- On the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams: “I think it's exciting for the fans. I think the potential is very exciting. I think it will change certainly the goals and the approach for a lot of teams. I can see now where certain teams have to win every single game where now it's like ‘Let's get to the playoffs and go play our best football at the end of the season,’ similar to the way the NFL is designed. I think there's a lot of things they need to work through in terms of the number of games and the location of games and I think that all has to play into it. So very, very excited. I think it's going to be great for college football. But I know there's a lot to work out.”
- Day said he hopes the College Football Playoff selection committee will reward Ohio State this year for beating a top-five team in non-conference play to begin the season. “I hope that the CFP can look at a game like that, especially early in the season, against a team that's ranked No. 5 in the country and recognize what that means. Because that is a major deal. And I think certainly with us who play nine conference games, and now you add on top of that a top-five team, I mean that's a major schedule and that's a bear of a schedule.”
- Day said he thinks there still needs to be conversations about the number of regular-season games that will be played now that the playoff is expanding to 12 teams.
- On the atmosphere inside Ohio Stadium on Saturday night: “I stood in the middle of the Horseshoe at one point before the game, looked around. It was packed about an hour and 15 minutes before the game and I'm seeing LeBron James and Jayson Tatum and Justin Fields to Sam Hubbard to Joe Burrow to Zeke Elliott to all the greats who have come before ... It was quite a scene. And probably, Ohio State's the only school in America that could create a scene quite like that. The amount of recruits that we had, the families that we had there, it was just electric. And it's an honor to be a part of this tradition ... This is why you come to Ohio State, whether you're a coach or a player or a recruit. It was great to be a part of it, and glad we were able to come out of the game with a victory and celebrate that together afterward.”