FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Preseason Heisman candidate Tyler Wilson ate up the headlines leading up to game week, but it was Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova who sent shockwaves through college football.
The Scarlet Knights are back in a big way.
With Nova putting up the best game of his career, Rutgers football put itself back on the map with a 35-26 victory under the SEC spotlight.
“I think this is the best game I’ve probably ever played,” Nova said. “I’m just trying to get better and do what I’m coached to do and continue to progress.”
The Razorbacks had everything going for them – a 10-point lead, the return of their star player and 72,000 fans – but Rutgers simply did not care. The Scarlet Knights are used to winning with tough defense. Average at best against the Wilson-led Hogs, Nova stole the show with the best showing from a Rutgers quarterback since Mike Teel’s senior year.
A torrid Nova, great game plan and just enough from the defense emerged as the formula for the biggest non-conference win since the turn of the program.
“I’m proud of the evolution of Gary Nova,” said head coach Kyle Flood, who remains undefeated in his first season.
The deep ball worked for Nova all night. Brandon Coleman made a pair of touchdown grabs to help Rutgers build its two-score lead, but senior Mark Harrison provided the backbreaker for the Razorbacks.
Just two plays after Arkansas made it 28-26, Nova and Harrison connected for a 60-yard bomb down the right sideline – a bomb that solidified Nova’s performance as one of the best ever for Rutgers.
Nova finished with 397 yards and five touchdowns. Though Teel had two better statistical games in 2008, neither had the big-game feel of what Nova did at Razorback Stadium.
Wilson, who was cleared to play from a concussion two days ago, shredded the Rutgers defense thanks to a career night from Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton burned the majority of the Rutgers defense with an SEC record 303 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Vulnerable as the defense looked, the Scarlet Knights still game up with big plays. Cornerback Logan Ryan took points off the board with a pick in the end zone and Khaseem Greene broke up a two-point conversion that could have tied it at 28.
“They bailed us out tonight,” said senior middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais. “My hat goes off to them. Gary did a great job. The offensive line did a great job – no sacks. They really bailed us out tonight.”
Rutgers (4-0, 1-0) made a case to crack the top 25 during its upcoming bye week. The Scarlet Knights made a statement, but have nothing but Connecticut on their minds after losing in embarrassing fashion last season.
“The hunters become the hunted,” Beauharnais said. “We have to really be focused. Beating Arkansas wasn’t the hard part. This is the hard part right now.”