To quote John Facenda, colloquially known as the Voice of God, “do you feel the force of the wind, the slash of the rain? go forward and face them! Be savage a-gain!” Yes, the immortal narrator of the old school classic NFL Films franchise provided prose perfectly describing the first half of Ohio State’s visit to Northwestern.
One player missing out on the rain and wind was Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was unavailable for the sixth time this season as he continues to struggle with a lingering hamstring injury.
“I know, as a competitor, he’s frustrated and wants to get back,” wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said this week. “(I have a) huge level of confidence (that he’ll be back).”
If he declares for the draft, Njigba will be the top wideout prospect in this class.
The Buckeyes are hopeful he’ll be able to return this season, as they are projected to be playing a 13th and 14th game this year. And if they win that 14th affair, there will be a 15th contest. They’ll need Smith-Njigba, to be all that they can be, as was evidenced today at NU.
Midway through the fourth quarter with only 14 points to show against a team they were favored to beat by 39, the Buckeyes had just 76 passing yards as a team!
For a team with a wide receiving corps this deep and talented, it was shocking to see the air attack struggle so much. Yes, even in the elements, as good passing games are able to throw the ball effectively and consistently in all types of weather.
Northwestern defensive back A.J. Hampton, in the lead-up to this game, discussed going against Jaxon-Smith Ngijba and company.
“They have a lot of good guys in their wide receiver room,” he said.
“I feel like one thing that really jumps out about him is I feel like he has really good hands and is really good in the route tree. He does all the little things right, which I feel like is something you really like to see in a wide receiver.
“At the end of the day, we’ve played these guys before. 2020, and even my freshman year in 2018, they’ve always had guys like this. It really just kind of depends on us and how our preparation goes, because I don’t really think he does anything too crazy, but he just does things a lot better than a lot of the other wide receivers in college football right now.”
While Northwestern lost, at least they covered the spread today, and their secondary kept the Buckeyes throw game in check. A.J. Hampton saw this coming.
“I think as a secondary room, we match up very well,” he said on Monday.
“We play them every year, and praise to them, they’re a great team — I’m not taking anything from them. I think what we need to do first is take a step back. It started today in practice: it started in film, just looking at our breakdown, just doing the little things right. I feel like going into the game as a secondary, we’ve gotta play with that fire.
“We have a lot of good young talent and we’ve got some seasoned vets, too. I think the biggest thing we’ve done is just to trust ourselves and…just go out there and have fun.
The wind was definitely their 12th man today, as it led to Stroud making some terrible throws. But Hampton continued:
“I’m not taking any respect from them because they’re great wide receivers, but at the end of the day, I’m talking more about myself and about my teammates. I know what me and Cam [Mitchell] have done. I know what some of my younger teammates, Theran [Johnson] and all of them, have done. Personally, I think it’s gonna be a great week and a great challenge.”
Getting back to Smith-Ngijba, maybe this injury-riddled season will hurt his NFL Draft stock. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe he needs to return to the field and dominate in 2022. Or maybe his Pro Day and Scouting Combine in 2023 will speak for itself. Certainly his statistics, accomplishments and resume speaks volumes in regards to his talent and abilities.
He holds the FBS Bowl Game and Ohio State single game record for most receiving yards with 347 in the 2022 Rose Bowl. He also holds Ohio State records for most catches in a single game with 15 (twice) and most receiving yards in a single season with 1,606 during the 2021 season.
We’ll be back with more on Smith-Njigba and Ohio State, after the postgame press conference.
Paul M. Banks is the Owner/Manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”Follow paulmbanks