With five weeks between Ohio State’s final regular-season game and the CFP semifinal on Dec. 31, Ryan Day's banged-up team should have plenty of time to recoup and recover before it faces Georgia.
However, when Day was asked on Sunday about Jaxon Smith-Njigba's availability for the Buckeyes’ battle with the Bulldogs on New Year's Eve, the fourth-year head coach offered a noncommittal answer.
“We'll probably have more of an update over the next couple of days as to exactly where that's at,” Day told former Ohio State receiver Joey Galloway on ESPN's broadcast of the College Football Playoff rankings.
On November 17, Ryan Day said I wouldnt say expecting, Id probably say more hoping when asked about Jaxon Smith-Njigba possibly returning this season.— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) December 4, 2022
On this afternoons CFP show, Day was noncommittal on JSNs possibly playing against Georgia in the CFP semifinals. pic.twitter.com/84C40ceJ9n
When meeting with local media later on Sunday, Day was asked again about Smith-Njigba's status. This time, he was requested to comment on if the decision for the preseason All-American to play in the CFP semifinal came down to opting out or not being physically able to play due to his hamstring injury.
“Both,” Day answered quickly. He later reiterated that he expects to know later this week whether or not Smith-Njigba will suit up for Ohio State's matchup with Georgia.
Smith-Njigba has attempted to return twice for Ohio State this season, only to suffer setbacks in both instances. After exiting the season opener against Notre Dame, he played in Week 3 against Toledo, catching two passes for 33 yards on 23 snaps. He missed the next four games before playing only 22 snaps in Week 8 against Iowa and catching one pass for 7 yards. He was then labeled inactive for the Buckeyes' five remaining regular-season games of 2022.
“The whole thing's been unfortunate, and certainly nobody wants to play more than Jaxon,” Day said. “But we'll probably have more in a few days.”
Should Smith-Njigba return for a third time against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, it’s uncertain what kind of impact he could have against the Bulldogs. But his presence alone could open up opportunities for C.J. Stroud to connect with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka – receivers who stepped up significantly in Smith-Njigba's absence – in the passing game.
Harrison was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and won the conference's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year with 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns on 72 receptions in the regular season. Harrison is also one of three semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football.
Along with Harrison, Egbuka became one of nine receivers in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, collecting 66 passes for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns through the Buckeyes' first 12 games.
Still, with Ohio State set to face a Georgia team who ranks No. 9 nationally in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense by holding opponents to 292.0 yards and 12.8 points per contest this season, the Buckeyes would gladly welcome Smith-Njigba back into the slot if he can play in the CFP semifinal.
As for other injured players like running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, Day said he expects the Buckeyes to be back at “full strength” when they play Georgia at the end of the month.
“I think Jaxon, we’ll see, but everybody else, I think we should have,” Day said. “That (injuries) was a little bit part of the story this year, and to be at full strength or almost at full strength is going to be important to go beat these guys. So yeah, great to get a couple of weeks and even last week, got a little bit more rest.
“I think that the running back position, especially those guys, it was hard for them. There's nobody that wanted to play, get on the field more than Trey and Miyan. But they just had some things that were just limiting what they could do. And I give them a lot of credit for keep trying every week, but it was just, there's two things: There's one, you can get bruised or you can get kind of hurt, then there's things where you get injured, that you just physically can't do it, and it gets frustrating. This allows us some time to heal from those, so that we can hopefully get some of this stuff behind us so we can have a full-strength team going into it. It's a lot of different positions. But I give those guys a lot of credit for trying it every week and getting out there and grinding through it. But it'll be nice to be at full strength.”