Criticism of Smith-Njigba angers Stroud

COLUMBUS – There was no shortage of overreactions after Ohio State lost to Michigan for a second year in a row.

In the aftermath of that 45-23 defeat and even after USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, some people questioned OSU’s worthiness to receive an invitation to the College Football Playoff.

Probably every Ohio State football coach’s firing was called for by someone on the internet in the days after the Michigan game. And quarterback C.J. Stroud was derided as overrated and saw his Heisman Trophy status go from front-runner most of the season to third place when the votes were counted.

Stroud talked Wednesday about some of the things his critics have said to him. “I’m used to getting things on my phone that people wouldn’t be proud of if everybody could see them,” he said.

But it was something else that drew the strongest response from Stroud.

Some people have said Ohio State’s star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who played briefly in just three games this season, is healthy enough to play in the Buckeyes’ playoff semifinal against Georgia, but is sitting out to protect his NFL draft status.

Draft analyst Todd McShay suggested this was the case on ESPN, saying, “NFL scouts would love to see him play, and there are a lot of reports from NFL scouts I’ve talked to that said he’s healthy enough to play and he’s protecting himself for the draft.”

During a Wednesday interview session with most of Ohio State’s offensive and defensive starters, Stroud said that was wrong and unfair to Smith-Njigba.

“I know people were talking that he should play (in the College Football Playoff), but you have no idea of the stuff he has been through this year. No clue. Who are people to talk about my brother like that? I kind of gets me a little angry that people try to make it seem like he’s not a team player and that he doesn’t care about his teammates.

“That’s the total opposite wrong. He helped out Marvin (Harrison Jr.) so much this year, he helped out Emeka (Egbuka). Same with Trey. It’s not fair for people to ridicule Jaxon or Trey (running back TreVeyon Henderson) or anybody who is out with injuries. Honestly, the stuff that people are saying to them is crazy, man, especially Jaxon,” Stroud said.

Smith-Njigba issued a statement on Dec. 5 that said, “After consulting with my doctors it has been determined that I will not be able to participate in the playoffs.” He also announced he was declaring for the NFL draft in that statement.”

NOTES:

WILLIAMS UPDATE: Running back Miyan Williams, who did not play in OSU’s next-to-last game of the regular season at Maryland and had 8 carries for 34 yards against Michigan, said he will be ready to play against Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

Williams had a badly sprained ankle late in the season but said that is behind him. With TreVeyon Henderson unavailable against Georgia because of surgery for torn ligaments and a broken bone in his foot, the state of Williams’ health is huge.

Williams is Ohio State’s leading rusher with 817 yards.

“Feeling good. Ready to play,” he said on Wednesday. Asked how close to 100% healthy he is, he said, “I’m pretty much there.”

CHAMBERS WILL RETURN: Linebacker Steele Chambers, who will be a fifth-year senior next season, said he plans to stay at Ohio State for a fifth year.

Chambers moved to linebacker from running back before the 2021 season. He thinks he needs another year of learning that position before trying to go to the NFL.

“I feel like I’ve progressed in just my knowledge of the game, but I think there’s just a lot more that I need to learn. I feel like I’m pretty premature as far as linebacker savviness,” he said.

“I sat and talked to my dad about it in the preseason. I always thought I was going to come back for a fifth year, especially after the position change,” Chambers said. “That’s always been my first option, and I think just after this year, that’s what I’m going to stick with.”

Chambers’ 69 tackles this season ranked second behind Tommy Eichenberg’s 112 for the Buckeyes. He had 6 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.

QUARTERBACK, RECEIVER COMMIT TO OSU: Lincoln Kienholz, a 4-star quarterback from Pierre, South Dakota, became the 20th player to commit to Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class on Wednesday.

Kienholz passed for 3,422 yards and 46 touchdowns and rushed for 1,435 yards and 24 touchdowns for Pierre High School, which won its sixth consecutive Class 11AA state championship. He previously had committed to the University of Washington.

Kienholz is ranked the No. 14 quarterback nationally in the 2023 recruiting class in 247sports.com’s composite rankings.

Also on Wednesday, Jeremiah Smith, rated the No. 1 receiver in the 2024 recruiting class, committed to the Buckeyes. The 5-star recruit is from Hollywood, Florida, Chaminade-Madonna Prep.