Nova's big day lifts Rutgers over Arkansas 35-26

Associated Press Modified: September 22, 2012 at 11:34 pm •  Published: September 22, 2012
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Cobi Hamilton's career game wasn't enough to save Arkansas from another disheartening loss.

Hamilton had 10 catches for a Southeastern Conference-record 303 yards and three touchdowns Saturday night, but Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova answered with a career game of his own in a 35-26 win for the Scarlet Knights.

The loss was the third straight for the Razorbacks (1-3), who entered the season ranked No. 8 before plummeting out of the rankings following a loss to Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago. The last time they lost three in a row was in former coach Bobby Petrino's first season in 2008.

Petrino was fired in April, and interim coach John L. Smith — whose brother passed away earlier this week — was left to pick up the pieces after yet another crushing defeat for a team that was 21-5 the last two seasons.

"Why would (fans) not think these guys are going to do the best that they can to right the ship?" Smith said. "They're going to go to the field. That's all we know. That's all they have. We don't have any other option except to go to the field, start tomorrow, work as hard as we can work, hopefully get some guys back and try to right it. That's all we can do."

Even quarterback Tyler Wilson's 419-yard passing performance in his return after missing the loss to the Crimson Tide with a concussion wasn't enough to stop Arkansas' losing ways.

"Physically I feel pretty good, but we have to go out and win," Wilson said. "I feel really good physically, but deep down inside, not so good."

The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, were on the complete other end of the emotional spectrum. They celebrated the school's first 4-0 start since 2006 with the vocal Rutgers' fan base in Razorback Stadium afterward, and coach Kyle Flood couldn't help but smile while becoming the third coach in school history to start his career with that mark in his first season.

Flood relied heavily on Nova on Saturday to secure the win. The sophomore was 25 of 35 passing for a career-best 397 yards and five touchdowns, helping the Scarlet Knights earn their first win over an SEC team since beating Vanderbilt in 2004.

"I'm proud of the evolution of Gary Nova," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "All I wanted from Gary is to get a little bit better each week, and I think he's done that. It's starting to show up on game day, which is great.

"I think Gary made some excellent passes tonight. I don't know if he was perfect, but he's a great player."

Rutgers trailed 10-0 in the first quarter before storming back behind Nova, who had never thrown more than two touchdowns in a game. Nova shattered that mark, as well as his previous best 298-yard passing effort against Connecticut last season.

He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman, but none of his five scoring passes were more important than a 60-yard strike to Mark Harrison in the fourth quarter. The two-play touchdown drive put the Scarlet Knights up 35-26 and helped stem the tide of what appeared to be a furious Arkansas comeback.

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