Ohio State Football: Smith-Njigba wideout, cornerbacks still up for grabs for Rutgers game

COLUMBUS — When Jaxon Smith-Njigba pulled out of Ohio State’s season opener against Notre Dame with a leg injury, OSU football coach Ryan Day was calm outside, but below the surface, things were less peaceful and placid.

“We got thrown a curveball without Jaxon. There was certainly plenty in the game plan to target No.11 (Smith-Njigba) in this game. Then he was out and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ Day said Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

“I didn’t have a long list of what would happen if Jaxon went out early in the game. I got a little caught there. But the guys (OSU offensive coaches) got it and some players stepped up. From there we built,” he said.

Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards last season. So far this season, he’s had 4 catches for 36 yards while only being on the field for parts of the opener and against Toledo two weeks ago.

He didn’t play in OSU No. 3’s 52-21 win over Wisconsin last Saturday and it would be a surprise if he played when the Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) take on Rutgers ( 3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

Day said decisions that Smith-Njigba would not play Arkansas State and Wisconsin and that he could play Toledo were based on the opinion of Ohio State medical staff and on player information.

“We always refer to coaches and doctors and then get feedback from the player,” Day said. “And we try to do our best to keep them as safe as possible in these times, and we will continue to do so.

“I know he’s frustrated. But we are not as far as we think. And if he just has the mindset to show up every day and get as much care as possible and take care of his body, that will soon be behind us and we still have a lot of football to play.” Day said.

“He is struggling, he wants to play. He’s one of the most competitive players I’ve seen. But it rarely goes as expected. It’s just life in general. Life will throw adversity our way. And we control the response.

Day said he has no regrets playing Smith-Njigba against Toledo and the decision whether he plays on Saturday would be up to the medical staff and Smith-Njigba.

Ohio State starting cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Cam Brown also didn’t play against Wisconsin. And Jordan Hancock, another cornerback who should get plenty of playing time, hasn’t played OSU’s first four games due to a long-term injury.

“We hope to have at least Cam and Denzel back. I don’t think we’ll see Jordan for another week or two. But we’ll see,” Day said. “We will evaluate it and have a better idea later in the week.”

When those veteran cornerbacks were unavailable against Wisconsin, freshman Jyaire Brown and redshirt freshman Jakailin Johnson started and played well.

“I give a lot of credit to (cornerbacks coach) Tim Walton and (defensive coordinator) Jim (Knowles) for setting these guys up and then Jyaire and JK for stepping up the way they did, I’m very proud of them,” Day said.

“These guys have been training all spring and all pre-season. I don’t think they missed a practice. The only way to improve is to practice and they did. When we put them on, the whole team believed in them because they saw him in training. We knew they weren’t going to be perfect but they played very well. They are both very talented.

Contact Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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