COLUMBUS — The Ohio State passing game is in line to get a hefty boost this weekend against the undefeated Toledo Rockets as Buckeye head coach Ryan Day is anticipating that receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming will both be cleared to play this Saturday.
“He’s further along than he was at this point last week, and we’re gonna expect him to play this weekend,” Day said of Smith-Njigba. “We’ll see how this week goes. But like I said, we’re going to only put him in the game if we feel 100 percent sure that he’s he’s ready to roll. But we’re expecting him to play.”
Smith-Njigba suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener against Notre Dame and has just two catches for three yards on the season. Without him, there have been some timing issues in the passing game. Those issues weren’t as apparent this past weekend against Arkansas State, but that’s a credit to receivers stepping up in his absence.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re a different team when Jaxon’s in there, there’s no question,” Day said. “But to your point, I think that we’ve had to have some other guys step up and figure a few things out, and I think that has been good for the longevity of the offense and the depth of the offense. So we can’t wait to get Jaxon back, but it has allowed an opportunity to get some guys out there and then kind of build some packages.”
As far as Fleming is concerned, they will monitor the situation just as they are with Smith-Njigba.
“Same thing,” Day said. “Yeah, we’re expecting Julian to play this week. I think it’s very similar to the Jaxon situation. Yes.”
If Fleming can go on Saturday, it will be his first appearance of the season. He caught 12 passes for 86 yards last season.
Day said it wasn’t clear who would be starting at receiver this weekend, but they will rotate plenty and all of the top available receivers will play.
The only person as excited as Smith-Njigba and Fleming may be Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud. Even though he’s still been stellar this season, it’s going to be good for him to get the majority of the band back together.
“I think that will be exciting for our team, just to get two dynamic playmakers back,” Stroud said. “I think the guys who have been playing already have been doing a good job too, so even if they don’t come back, I know we’ll be fine. But hopefully they do.”
Smith-Njigba is a proven commodity. Everybody saw last year what he was capable of doing on the football field. But what about Fleming? What can he bring to the team this weekend?
“Julian is very versatile. He’s very dynamic,” Stroud said. “Of course, everybody knows he can go and get the deep ball, but he’s been working on his game a lot this summer. Just snapping his routes down. Making them clean, making them crisp. And then of course he brings that physical element, just him being so big and able to block people.
“When he comes back he’ll definitely be used a lot.”
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