PASADENA, Calif. — C.J. Stroud capped his record-setting offensive day by leading a 56-yard drive ending in Noah Ruggles’ 19-yard field goal with nine seconds to play, and No. 6 Ohio State beat No. 11 Utah 48-45 on Saturday night in the wild 108th edition of the Rose Bowl.
Stroud passed for a school-record 573 yards and a record-tying six touchdowns for the Buckeyes (11-2), who won the Granddaddy of Them All for the second time in four years with an offensive performance that shattered multiple long-standing offensive marks. Stroud’s yards passing and touchdowns both are Rose Bowl records, and he finished 3 yards shy of the record for yards passing in any bowl game.
Ohio State still had to rally from 10 points down late in the third quarter to get past the Pac-12 champion Utes (10-4), who got off to an electrifying start and stayed competitive even after star quarterback Cameron Rising went down with an injury with 9:56 to play in Utah’s first trip to the Rose Bowl.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba set the record for any FBS bowl game with 347 yards receiving while catching a school-record 15 passes and scoring three touchdowns. Marvin Harrison Jr. also caught three TD passes for the Buckeyes, who set a Rose Bowl record with 683 total yards.
Ohio State trailed 38-31 entering the fourth quarter despite the pyrotechnics of its passing game, but the Buckeyes immediately stopped Utah on downs at the Ohio State 31, and tied it on Harrison’s 5-yard TD catch with 10:12 left. Rising was injured moments later while getting sacked, the Utes had to turn to Bryson Barnes, who had never thrown a collegiate pass.
Smith-Njigba then made a 30-yard, over-the-shoulder catch for his third touchdown with 4:22 to play, but Barnes improbably led the Utes on a tying drive capped by a 15-yard TD pass to Dalton Kincaid with 1:54 left.
But Stroud coolly led the Buckeyes back downfield in the waning seconds, and Ruggles hit his easy field goal. Ohio State kicked off to Britain Covey, who already had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier, but the Buckeyes smothered his cutback as time ran out.
Rising passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards and a score, but he left the game with an apparent head injury after getting sacked.
With two top Buckeyes receivers opting out of the Rose Bowl, Smith-Njigba had a spectacular day that included TD receptions of 50 and 52 yards made 30 seconds apart — albeit with Covey’s TD return in between.
He broke Cris Carter’s 1985 school record of 172 yards receiving in a bowl game in the first half alone. He snapped Keyshawn Johnson’s 1996 Rose Bowl record of 216 yards receiving and then Terry Glenn’s 1995 single-game school record of 253 yards after halftime.
When Utah led 35-21 at halftime, the schools matched the 2012 Oregon-Wisconsin matchup for the highest-scoring half in Rose Bowl history — and they combined for 42 points and 443 yards in the second quarter alone.
The 24-year-old Covey’s sensational 97-yard romp through the Buckeyes in the second quarter was the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Utah’s entire bowl history. Covey, who also caught a 19-yard TD pass for the Utes’ first points, arrived at the school in 2015.
A sellout crowd dominated by Utah fans created a crackling atmosphere in the venerable stadium that opened in October 1922.
With the anticlimactic nature of this Rose Bowl for the Buckeyes, whose loss to Michigan in November knocked them out of the national title picture, four key starters opted out to preserve their health for the NFL draft: Receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, starting left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett.
Ohio State: Host Notre Dame on Sept. 3 to begin the 2022 season as the probable co-favorite to win the Big Ten with the Wolverines.
Utah: At Florida on Sept. 3 to begin the 2022 season as the likely favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champions.