Ryan Day on Jaxon Smith-Njigba's Return This Season: “I Wouldn't Say Expecting, I'd Probably Say More Hoping”

By Chase Brown on November 17, 2022 at 1:57 pm
Jaxon Smith-Njigba

After expressing confidence earlier this year that Jaxon Smith-Njigba would return for Ohio State this season, Ryan Day pivoted from that thought on Thursday.

In a Zoom press conference with the media, Day was asked whether or not he expects Smith-Njigba back in the lineup for the Buckeyes this season. The head coach's answer was less enthusiastic than it was a few weeks ago.

“I wouldn't say expecting, I'd probably say more hoping,” Day said. “But no update at this point.”

Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns last season for the Buckeyes. Many labeled him as the best receiver in college football heading into this year. However, he hasn't had the opportunity to validate the claim because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the first quarter of the Buckeyes' season opener against Notre Dame.

The third-year wideout has made a few efforts to return to action since the initial injury but has suffered setbacks in the process.

The first was against Toledo in Week 3, but that attempt was cut short as he played only 23 snaps and recorded only two catches for 33 yards. After missing the next four games, Smith-Njigba's second return was for Ohio State's matchup with Iowa following the team's bye week. He was limited to what Day called a “pitch count” and played only 22 snaps, catching one pass for seven yards. Smith-Njigba has missed each of the Buckeyes' games since then, including Penn State, Northwestern and Indiana.

After the Penn State game, Day said he was optimistic that Smith-Njigba would return this season for Ohio State. Brian Hartline said he had a “huge level of confidence” the standout pass-catcher would be back in the regular season or postseason.

“He's beating himself up a little bit. He's been better this week,” Hartline said at the time. “He wants to play in the worst way, and he's frustrated.”

While neither Day nor Hartline specified when they expect Smith-Njigba to return, Smith-Njigba’s father Maada told The Columbus Dispatch on Nov. 1 that Jaxon was targeting Ohio State’s Nov. 26 game against Michigan as the time to suit up. Still, that depends on whether he is healthy and ready to play.

“The next time Jaxon is in scarlet and gray, he’ll be 110%,” Maada Smith-Njigba said. “I don’t know if that will be against the team up north or the Fiesta Bowl (the most likely College Football Playoff semifinal site for Ohio State).

“I really feel like any time between the team up north and the Fiesta Bowl, he’ll be ready.”

While the timetable Maada created for Jaxon's return is still in play, Day's comment on Thursday may provide evidence of the contrary, as Ohio State's matchup with Michigan is only nine days away and his availability remains up in the air.

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