Ryan Day Says “The Plan” is For Jaxon Smith-Njigba to Play Against Penn State, Will Have “Better Idea” About Potential Pitch Count by End of Week

By Griffin Strom on October 25, 2022 at 2:48 pm
Jaxon Smith-Njigba

When Jaxon Smith-Njigba left Saturday’s game favoring his injured hamstring in the second quarter, it seemed to put his short-term availability back into question for the Buckeyes.

Ryan Day said after the game that Smith-Njigba had simply exhausted his “pitch count” in his first appearance since Week 3, and the Buckeye head coach said Tuesday he expects the record-setting junior wideout to be available for Ohio State’s forthcoming road matchup with 13th-ranked Penn State.

“That’s the plan,” Day said.

As for a snaps limit, Day said that will be determined as the team continues to assess Smith-Njigba’s health throughout the week.

“We’ll see. As the week goes on we’ll know more,” Day said. “When you come out of games like that, you gotta keep evaluating and see how things go. But we’ll keep figuring stuff out and by the end of the week we’ll have a better idea.”

After setting single-season Ohio State records with 95 receptions and 1,606 receiving yards as a sophomore, Smith-Njigba has appeared in just three games so far this year with just five catches and 43 yards to show for it. Smith-Njigba injured his hamstring in the first quarter of the season opener against Notre Dame and has played just 45 snaps for Ohio State in the subsequent six games.

Despite leaving this past weekend’s Iowa game with an apparent limp, Day said Smith-Njigba wanted to return to the game but the staff opted to hold him to his snaps restriction.

“He’s always been trying to get back out there. He’s a competitor and it’s been hard for him to not be out there more,” Day said. “But we wanted to make sure that we kept that number at around about 20 and make sure we didn’t put him out there any more.”

When asked Tuesday if Smith-Njigba underwent medical evaluations for anything beyond his lingering hamstring issue on Saturday, Day said “there was nothing else other than just the normal evaluations.”

In his own interview session Tuesday, Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson acknowledged the difficulty Smith-Njigba faces in slotting back into the offense after playing so infrequently thus far. But Wilson said the mental anguish of a season that hasn’t gone according to plan may be even more strenuous.

“I’m sure it’s hard (to return after absence). It’s probably less hard for him because he’s played a lot and he’s so gifted,” Wilson said. “But just emotionally, just your thoughts as you’re going through things, the stresses that you put on yourself, what you’re trying to accomplish. … It’s unfortunate because he’s a special talent, special player, a great practice player. An awesome practice player, one of the best I’ve ever been around. But the good Lord’s got those plans. He’s gonna have a bright, long, great future, but short-term, selfishly you’d love to get him back because he’s special and a great Buckeye.”

While Day said after the season opener that many of Ohio State’s offensive plays were designed for Smith-Njigba, causing the coaching staff to change course on the fly, Day no longer seems concerned about his unit’s ability to adapt without him on the field.

After all, C.J. Stroud leads the country in both passing touchdowns (28) and passer rating (203.85), and Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are the fourth- and fifth-highest-graded wide receivers in the nation, per Pro Football Focus.

“Our guys are very intelligent, they can jump out of positions whether it’s the Z, the H, the X. We can jump in and out of 11, 10, 12 (personnel) and our guys really don’t get affected too much by that,” Day said. “So no, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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