FAYETTEVILLE — Gary Nova did his best to prove Rutgers is indeed for real.
Nova was 25 of 35 passing for a career-best 397 yards and five touchdowns Saturday night to lead the Scarlet Knights to a 35-26 win over Arkansas.
The win secures Rutgers’ first 4-0 start since the 2006 season, and first-year coach Kyle Flood becomes the third coach in school history to start his career with that mark. The last was John Bateman in 1960.
Nova threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman, who finished with six catches for 89 yards. Jawan Jamison had 33 carries for 118 yards for Rutgers.
Tyler Wilson, returning after missing a loss to Alabama with a concussion, was 20 of 40 passing for 419 yards for Arkansas (1-3). Cobi Hamilton had 10 catches for a Southeastern Conference record 303 yards and three touchdowns for the Razorbacks.
Rutgers trailed 10-0 in the first quarter before storming back behind Nova, who had never thrown more than two touchdowns in a game. The sophomore shattered that mark, as well as his previous best 298-yard passing effort against Connecticut last season.
Nova threw a pair of touchdown passes to 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 comeback by Arkansas — which was looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2008.
The Razorbacks led 10-0 early behind Wilson’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Hamilton, whose yardage record bested the 293-yard receiving effort by LSU’s Josh Reed in 2001. Wilson hadn’t played since the first half of a loss to Louisiana-Monroe, but he promised after the Alabama loss to do his best to return as quickly as possible and to keep Arkansas nationally relevant.
The senior performed as expected in his return, but Rutgers — ranked 12th nationally in total defense — found the answer to the Razorbacks’ offense after some early struggles. Arkansas led the SEC in total offense and scoring last season, but the Scarlet Knights held it to four straight three-and-outs at one point in the first half.
The Razorbacks gained 176 yards of offense in the first quarter, but they had just 18 yards in the second quarter.
Nova, meanwhile, had every answer for the Scarlet Knights’ offense. His first touchdown pass was a 10-yarder to Jamison in the second quarter, and he followed that with his first touchdown to Coleman to put Rutgers up 14-10 at halftime.
Coleman opened the second-half scoring with his second touchdown, a 38-yard strike, and Nova’s fourth touchdown pass — a 2-yarder to Paul Carreloza — put the Scarlet Knights up 28-13 and capped a 28-3 scoring run for the Big East school in it is first meeting with Arkansas.
Wilson responded with back-to-back touchdown passes for the Razorbacks, including an 80-yard completion that closed the Rutgers lead to 28-26 midway through the fourth quarter. However, the Scarlet Knights foiled Arkansas’ 2-point conversion attempt and held on to the lead.
Two plays later, Nova found Harrison for the game-clinching 60-yard touchdown — leading to a Rutgers celebration afterward and leaving the Razorbacks still searching for answers in their first season after former coach Bobby Petrino’s firing in April.