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CJ Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba lift Ohio State past Utah 48-45 in Rose Bowl thriller

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PASADENA, CALIF. - JAN. 1, 2022. Ohio State players celebrate a 48-45 win against Utah.
Ohio State players celebrate their 48-45 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

CJ Stroud surpassed 500 yards passing, Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 347 receiving yards and Marvin Harrison Jr. had three TD catches for Ohio State, who came back from a 14-point halftime deficit.

Ohio State wins slugfest 48-45 on a short field goal with nine seconds to play

Strange way to end a game that produced touchdowns by the ton and yards by the bushel.

A 19-yard field goal by Noah Ruggles with nine seconds to play gave No. 6 Ohio State a 48-45 victory over No. 10 Utah.

Quarterback CJ Stroud, who passed for a Rose Bowl record 573 yards (not a typo) and six touchdowns, was content to eat up the last two minutes and position the Buckeyes for a chip-shot field goal after Utah scored the tying touchdown.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba shredded the Rose Bowl record book with 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage was the most ever in a bowl game, Rose, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, any and all of them.

Marvin Harrison Jr., playing only because 1,000-yard receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave opted out of the game after opting into the NFL draft, had the other three touchdown catches. Harrison’s father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison Sr., never had a three-touchdown game while at Syracuse.

Until the last five minutes, the game was a shootout between Stroud and Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, both Southland products. Stroud strode and Rising rose.

Stroud is from Rancho Cucamonga High, Class of 2020. He’s an Ohio State freshman who redshirted behind Justin Fields last season and blossomed this season into one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.

Rising is from Newbury Park High, Class of 2018. He redshirted at Texas in the fall of 2018, redshirted at Utah in 2019, was injured last season and blossomed this season as an efficient passer and rugged runner.

Ohio State trailed at halftime, 35-21, giving up several big plays by Rising and receiver-kick returner Britain Covey. Rising dashed for a 62-yard touchdown and threw two touchdown passes. Covey, a 24-year-old junior who has entered the NFL draft, returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score and caught a touchdown pass.

Five touchdowns were scored during one frenetic three-minute stretch of the second quarter.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day said the mood in the locker room at halftime reminded him of the 2019 Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin when the Buckeyes defense was embarrassed in the first half.

Seasoned leaders addressed the team and the defense played much better in the second half.

“We were short-handed, and there were some guys who weren’t here today,” Day said. “And for us to respond the way we did at halftime and then come out and play that well in the second half says a lot about the character of this team.”

Utah caught a bad break when Rising was injured while being sacked with about five minutes to play on a failed fourth-down play.

By then the Buckeyes had seized the momentum, well on their way to a Rose Bowl record 683 total yards.

Still, Rising’s replacement, freshman Bryson Barnes — whose bio mentions that he grew up on a farm with 12,000 pigs — had the mostly pro-Utah crowd of 87,842 going hog wild when he lobbed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Kincaid to tie the score 45-45 with just under two minutes to play.

But that was enough time for Stroud to calmly lead the Buckeyes on a 56-yard drive into short field-goal range, connecting with Smith-Njigba — who including the Rose Bowl had 95 catches for 1,606 yards this season — for the last time on a 12-yard pass with 36 seconds to play.

“We built that connection probably all the way back to like, we came in as freshman together [last season],” Stroud said. “The scout team last year is when we really built it.”

Ruggles, a senior who should have an NFL career ahead, is as close to a sure thing as any kicker in college football. The winning field goal was his 20th in 21 attempts and he made all 74 extra points this season.

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Utah backup Bryson Barnes delivers game-tying TD pass to tie score 45-45

Walk-on redshirt freshman Bryson Barnes coolly led Utah on a 57-yard six-play drive following another excellent kick return by Britain Covey, culminated by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Kinkaid to tie the score 45-45 with 1:54 to play.

Barnes replaced Cameron Rising, who suffered a head injury with being sacked a few minutes earlier.

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CJ Stroud surpasses 500 yards passing as Ohio State takes the lead 45-38

Again CJ Stroud delivered a perfect pass.

Again Jaxon Smith-Njigba was on the receiving end.

Result: A 30-yard touchdown that put Ohio State ahead for the first time, 45-38. The Buckeyes have outscored Utah, 24-3 since halftime.

Stroud has passed for a mind-boggling 513 yards and six touchdowns, three to Smith-Njigba, who has set an even more mind-boggling Rose Bowl record 326 yards on 13 receptions.

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Utah QB Cameron Rising injured while being sacked with score tied 38-38

Cameron Rising, who completed 17 of 22 passes for 214 yards and rushed for 92 yards, left the game with a little more than nine minutes to play after his head was banged on the turf while being sacked.

Bryson Barnes, a freshman from Milford, Utah, replaced Rising. Barnes has little experience, redshirting last season after leading Milford High to the state championship in 2019.

The most interesting sentence in his bio is this:

[Barnes] is an Eagle Scout who grew up raising roughly 12,000 pigs in a barn in Southern Utah.

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Ohio State ties Utah 38-38 with 10 minutes to play on CJ Stroud’s fifth TD pass

Ohio State eclipsed Utah in total yardage late in the third quarter, and after scoring on CJ Stroud’s fifth touchdown pass of the game with 10:12 left in the fourth, have caught the Utes on the scoreboard, 38-38.

Stroud has completed 29 of 37 passes for a staggering 470 yards.

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Relatively docile third quarter ends with Utah up 38-31

Utah and Ohio State each kicked field goals in the third quarter. Really.

After scoring nine touchdowns and shredding defenses, both teams slowed to a simmer. There were turnovers and on the first play of the fourth quarter, a failed fourth-down play by Utah.

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The Times’ national college writer Brady McCullough makes a salient point

Yes, this is sarcasm . . . .

Point being, Utah and Ohio State are playing with passion and excellence. This Rose Bowl is fun to watch even for those who don’t know a Buckeye from a Ute.

Oh, and meanwhile, Utah drove for a field goal that pushes its lead to 38-28 midway through the third quarter.

The over-under in Vegas was 64 total points, and we just hit that mark. These teams aren’t done scoring.

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Ohio State pulls to within a touchdown by capitalizing on Utah miscue

Both offenses made critical mistakes on their first possessions of the third quarter.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud had a pass intercepted by Clark Phillips III in the end zone one play after he’d connected with Jaxon Smith-Njigba for 45 yards. Smith Njigba set a Rose Bowl record with 238 receiving yards on the play, eclipsing Keyshawn Johnson’s 216 yards in 1996.

But he’s not infallible

Utah couldn’t move the ball and was forced to punt. Michael Williams dropped the snap, however, setting up Ohio State on the Utah 11-yard line. Stroud hit Marvin Harrison Jr. from eight yards three plays later to cut the deficit to 35-28.

It was Harrison’s second touchdown catch and Stroud’s fourth touchdown pass of the game.

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Crazy numbers by two SoCal QBs highlight the first half with Utah leading 35-21

CJ Stroud has completed 15 of 19 passes for 289 yards, including three touchdowns on three consecutive second-quarter throws.

And his Ohio State team trails Utah at halftime, 35-21.

Cameron Rising of Utah has been an explosive dual threat, completing 11 of 15 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards in eight carries and one touchdown.

Both quarterbacks are Southland products.

Stroud is from Rancho Cucamonga High, Class of 2020. He’s an Ohio State freshman who redshirted behind Justin Fields last season and blossomed this season, completing 70.9 percent of his passes for 3,862 yards and 38 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

Rising is from Newbury Park High, Class of 2018, who redshirted at Texas in the fall of 2018, redshirted at Utah in 2019, rode the bench and was injured last season and blossomed this season, completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns.

He also rushed for 407 yards and five touchdown coming into the Rose Bowl.

They’ve both excelled in the first half of their SoCal homecoming. Stay tuned!

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Utah QB Cameron Rising dashes for 62-yard TD to cap a frenetic few minutes

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, the Newbury Park High product and transfer from Texas, broke off a 62-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one to score the game’s fifth touchdown in a wild three-minute span of the second quarter.

The run stretched Utah’s lead over Ohio State to 35-21.

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Ohio State produces another instant score, pulls within 28-21

CJ Stroud threw for his third touchdown in as many second-quarter passes and Ohio State pulled to within 28-21 with shocking immediacy.

The Buckeyes answered a 97-yard kickoff return by Utah’s Britain Covey with a 52-yard strike from Stroud to Jaxon Smith-Njigba with 8:32 to play in the first half. Only 32 seconds earlier, Stroud and Smith-Njigba connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass.

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Britain Covey shines again, taking a kickoff 97 yards for a Utah touchdown

Britain Covey returned a kickoff 97 yards to extend Utah’s lead to 28-14 immediately after Ohio State had put together a lightening quick two-play, 60-yard drive that began with a 10-yard run by Miyan Williams and ended with a 50-yard reception by Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Covey, as mentioned earlier is 24, married and playing in his last collegiate game. He’s making the most of it, scoring Utah’s first touchdown early in the first quarter and its fourth midway through the second quarter.

The kickoff return was the second-longest in Rose Bowl history.

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Utah goes to the ground to extend lead to 21-7

Cameron Rising hit Devaughn Vele for 23 yards on the first play of Utah’s initial second-quarter drive, then the Utes went with their ground game to finish a 79-yard drive to lead 21-7.

Tavion Thomas scored on a six-yard run, but the key play was an 18-yard scramble by Rising followed by a targeting call against Ohio State.

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OSU’s Marvin Harrison Jr. makes TD catch his Hall of Fame dad would appreciate

Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., a true freshman who waited patiently all season for playing time, scored his first college touchdown on a 25-yard over-the-shoulder reception to cut Utah’s lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter.

Harrison had only five catches for 68 yards all season. But with NFL-bound Buckeyes receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave bowing out of the Rose Bowl, Harrison is one of several receivers who should be targets today.

Harrison is well aware of the NFL. His father, Marvin Harrison, had 1,102 catches and 128 touchdowns during a 13-year career with the Indianapolis Colts that ended in 2008. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.

The scoring play came on fourth-and-one. Rather than run a conservative play to get the yard, quarterback CJ Stroud went long and Harrison made the catch.

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Spectacular fingertip catch by Micah Bernard extends Utah’s lead to 14-0

Micah Bernard made a sprawling fingertip catch in the corner of the end zone to extend Utah’s lead to 14-0 late in the first quarter.

The 12-yard play was the second touchdown pass by Cameron Rising, who has completed six of his first eight passes for 83 yards. The Utes have also rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries.

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Utah elder statesman Britain Covey scores on a 19-yard reception

Britain Covey, 24 years old, married and playing his final game at Utah, scored the first points in the Rose Bowl, taking a pass from Cameron Rising 19 yards to give the Utes a 7-0 lead with 9:29 to play in the first quarter.

Covey ran a simple hook route against a soft Ohio State secondary, turned left after the catch and dashed untouched into the end zone.

Several tweets from folks in the Rose Bowl observed that well more than half the crowd cheered the touchdown, meaning Utah fans outnumber Ohio State fans.

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Pregame peeks: Utah quarterback Cameron Rising is a Newbury Park High product

Here’s an early look at Utah taking the field for warmups hours before the Rose Bowl.

Utes quarterback Cameron Rising is a product of Newbury Park High and could give the Buckeyes fits with his legs as well as his arm.

Who’s going to win? Is the answer, my friends, blowing in the wind?

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Resilience helped Utah earn an ‘amazing opportunity’ to play in its first Rose Bowl

Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd celebrates alongside coach Kyle Whittingham, Cameron Rising and Britain Covey.
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd, second from left, celebrates alongside coach Kyle Whittingham, left, quarterback Cameron Rising, second right, and wide receiver Britain Covey after defeating Oregon in the Pac-12 Conference title game on Dec. 3.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

Since taking the reins at Utah in 2004, head coach Kyle Whittingham has experienced a wide range of highs and lows during the Utes’ journey to their first Rose Bowl.

The Southern California native is familiar with the significance of the oldest bowl game in college football. With 11 bowl wins as a head coach and the second highest bowl winning percentage among active coaches, Whittingham will get his first professional taste of the Rose Bowl stage that local schools USC and UCLA aspire to reach each year.

Utah’s rise to the national spotlight has been marked by personal and professional loss. The obstacles of the past 12 months have transformed into motivation, with the No. 11 Utes (10-3) now focused on taking down No. 6 Ohio State (10-2) in the Rose Bowl to cap the season Saturday afternoon.

“We have to have patience,” said Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “Utah is very well respected, and we’ve spent a number of years earning that respect. We’re still not a destination program, according to the rest of the country. We have to be able to develop.”

The Utes broke through the Pac-12 South with an 8-1 conference record and beat Oregon 38-10 in the Pac-12 championship game.

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Depleted Ohio State confident it has the talent to beat underdog Utah in Rose Bowl

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud looks to pass against Maryland on Oct. 9.
(Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

Just like the smell of Champagne on New Year’s Day, Ohio State has been a fixture during New Year’s Six games for the last eight years.

No. 6 Ohio State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) will make its 16th Rose Bowl appearance on Saturday in Pasadena when it faces No. 11 Utah (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12), which is making the first Rose Bowl appearance in program history. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN.

After record-breaking rain poured through the region, which led Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in 20 California counties including Los Angeles, the Pasadena weather forecast calls for clear skies and sunshine on game day.

Here are the top storylines and matchups to keep an eye on:

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