LOS ANGELES — When Ohio State takes the field at Rose Bowl Stadium on Saturday, its receiving corps will look a lot different than in the regular season.

Two of Ohio State’s best receivers, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, announced Monday that they were declaring for the 2022 NFL draft and were opting out of the Rose Bowl.

Wilson and Olave are both likely first-round draft picks and combined for 1,994 of Ohio State’s 4,379 receiving yards and 25 of the Buckeyes’ 40 receiving touchdowns.

Ohio State’s leading receiver, sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba, is playing in the Rose Bowl. Expect the 6-0, 197-pound Smith-Njigba — who was the Buckeyes’ leader in both receptions and yards with 80 receptions and 1,259 receiving yards — to get plenty of targets from Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. He’s had six games with 100 or more receiving yards.

Smith-Njigba is skilled and technically sound, and can be counted on for an explosive play. His best game this year came against Nebraska, where he had 240 receiving yards and a 75-yard touchdown in Ohio State’s 26-17 win.

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Though the Buckeyes haven’t released an official depth chart for the Rose Bowl game, sophomore Julian Fleming and freshmen Marvin Harrison Jr. — the son of NFL Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison — and Emeka Egbuka are expected to fill in at receiver for Wilson and Olave.

Smith-Njigba said he will be Ohio State’s slot receiver on Saturday, with Harrison Jr. and Fleming as the outside receivers.

Smith-Njigba now find himself as the leader of the wide receivers group for the Rose Bowl — and beyond.

“I always wanted to be in this position. So it’s just great that it’s happening. I appreciate Chris and Garrett for allowing me to follow them and them taking me in the right direction. So I appreciate that,” Smith-Njigba said on Wednesday.

Fleming (6-2, 205 pounds) was a five-star recruit, ranked as the best wide receiver in the 2020 class by 247Sports.

“Julian is real physical, very fast, very athletic, of course. He can make plays, very strong,” Smith-Njigba said.

Egbuka (6-1, 203 pounds) was a five-star recruit, ranked as the best wide receiver in the 2021 class.

“Emeka, he’s just very explosive, kind of a little bit like myself. Great routes, great hands,”  Smith-Njigba said.

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Ohio State (10-2)

vs. No. 11 Utah (10-3) 

Jan. 1, 3 p.m. MST

Rose Bowl

Pasadena, California


Radio: ESPN 700

Harrison Jr. (6-3, 205 pounds). was a four-star recruit, ranked as the 14th best wide receiver in the 2021 class.

“Marvin Harrison, he’s got great feet. He’s a great route runner, great hands. He’s got some size on him,” Smith-Njigba said.

There’s no shortage of talent among the Buckeyes’ backups, but there is a lack of game experience, as Olave, Wilson and Smith-Njigba got the bulk of the receptions this season. Egbuka has got the most run this year, with six receptions for 145 yards. Harrison Jr. has five receptions for 68 yards and Fleming has seven receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.

“With Chris and Garrett, those guys still got the bulk of the plays and they were getting their opportunities. But Emeka has shown flashes of being outstanding. Julian’s gotten in there and is healthy and doing well, and Marvin has been a great practice player,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.

Ohio State players, and Wilson, highlighted Harrison Jr.’s play in practice over the past weeks.

“Coach Hartline (Buckeyes’ wide receiver coach), if he were sitting here, would have told you the last five or six weeks, Marvin Harrison has practiced as well as any receiver we’ve had,” he said. “...  Now take it to the Rose Bowl. Take it against a quality defensive football team.”

But it’s one thing to shine in practice, and it’s another to play well on the big stage at the Rose Bowl.

“(When) you pop the pads, you’ve got to reestablish the chemistry and the timing and all those things,” Wilson said.

Delivering passes to the receivers will be Stroud, who threw for 3,862 yards and 38 touchdowns, finishing fourth in Heisman voting this season. Though he lost two of his best targets, Stroud is confident that Fleming, Egbuka and Harrison Jr. will step up and help the Buckeyes beat the Utes.

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“I think they’ve been anxious all year to play. This is their opportunity to go out there and prove what they can do. I’m definitely excited for them to go out there and have some fun and just show the world what they can do,” Stroud said.

How will Utah’s short-handed secondary fare against Ohio State’s explosive passing game?

Defending Ohio State’s explosive passing attack poses a challenge, especially to a Utah team that is thin at cornerback.

Scalley said that Utah’s defensive game plan won’t change with Wilson and Olave out, and that the Utes have film on Fleming, Harrison Jr. and Egbuka.

“A very talented wide receiving core, very talented offense period. You’ve got to do kind of a mixture of things, particularly when we’re as thin as we are,” Scalley said on Wednesday. “You’ve got to be able to do a mixture of things to make the quarterback hold onto the ball a little bit longer. So you’ve got to be great in disguise.”

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