Former Rancho Cucamonga star CJ Stroud makes Rose Bowl history to cap stellar season

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud passes under pressure from Utah defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi.
Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud passes under pressure from Utah defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi during the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ 48-45 Rose Bowl win Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When he graduated from Rancho Cucamonga High, CJ Stroud was ready for his football career to be outside of California.

He found his next stepping-stone in the Midwest, sporting Ohio State across his chest. Stroud patiently awaited for the starting quarterback role to open up, as he proved himself worthy throughout the 2021 training camp.

An impressive regular season that resulted in Heisman finalist honors, as well as the Big Ten’s freshman and offensive player of the year, foreshadowed Stroud’s record-breaking performance in the Rose Bowl on Saturday.


The redshirt freshman led the Buckeyes to a thrilling 48-45 victory over Utah, completing 37 of 46 passes for a record-tying six touchdowns in Ohio State’s ninth Rose Bowl victory. Stroud etched his name in Rose Bowl history as his 573 passing yards are the most in a single game in its 108-year tenure.

Ohio State’s exciting comeback victory over Utah in a gutsy Rose Bowl thriller showed that college football players do indeed put the game first.

Jan. 1, 2022

“This is the Rose Bowl,” Stroud said. “This is where the legendary games are being played. If you aren’t motivated to play, I question your love of the game. Every game I go out there, I try to do my best and make sure I prepare the right way and do the right things because you never know what can happen in the game.”

Stroud is familiar with legendary games at the Rose Bowl. Growing up less than 40 miles from the stadium, the 20-year-old witnessed firsthand USC and UCLA chase the coveted bowl each year. Unlike the Los Angeles college powerhouses, Stroud and the Buckeyes are the ones hoisting the trophy at the 50-yard line in the Rose Bowl this New Year.

“My job is to lead the team, lead our offense,” Stroud said. “I’ve got to watch. I have to do everything I need to do to lead our offense on the field.”

The game didn’t start on a high note for Ohio State, however. The Buckeyes looked outmatched in the first quarter after Utah scored two touchdowns and kept them off the board. That narrative changed within the first minute of the second quarter.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising throws a pass against Ohio State in the second quarter Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Stroud started the quarter by finishing the Buckeyes’ 10-play drive with a 25-yard pass to Marvin Harrison Jr. in the end zone. It sparked the back-and-forth pandemonium that saw Ohio State and Utah combine for 42 points in the quarter, much because of Stroud and Utah’s Cam Rising outdueling each other.

“We were short-handed, and there were some guys who weren’t here today,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “For us to respond the way we did at halftime and to come out and play in the second half, it says a lot about the character of this team to win this game.”

Stroud approached the game with an outlook of the past. Ohio State’s 42-27 loss to Michigan in late November is still a painful memory for him. With his family in the stands, he remembered how he started on this path.

The future of the program and his teammates held greater importance, which forced him to shake off the nerves and regroup. By the fourth quarter, Ohio State leveled the playing field by tying the score. As the game clock started to run out, Stroud inched the Buckeyes to the game-winning field goal.

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.

Jan. 1, 2022

“You always have ups and downs,” Stroud said. “These are all learning experiences ...This is our first year starting. When you have games like that under your belt, you know how to kind of finish those games off in a sense. You know not to panic, how to stay calm, and I think that’s what we did.”