FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Cobi Hamilton was among a host of Arkansas players who didn't hesitate a month ago when talking about the possibility of winning Southeastern Conference and national championships this season.
Times have certainly changed for Hamilton and the Razorbacks, who fell to 1-3 with a 35-26 setback to No. 23 Rutgers on Saturday. It was the third straight loss for Arkansas, which started the season ranked No. 8 before plummeting out of the AP college football poll after a then-shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
The overtime defeat to the Warhawks doesn't look so surprising these days, not after the Razorbacks secondary was once again exposed by a quarterback on his way to a career game. This time around, it was sophomore Scarlet Knights' quarterback Gary Nova who passed for a career-best 397 yards and five touchdowns against Arkansas - outdueling Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for 419 yards in the loss.
"That's a quarterback's dream to go back and forth like that," Nova said. "Those are the moments you dream about in college football."
The loss left the Razorbacks seemingly even more emotionally deflated than after the Louisiana-Monroe setback or after being soundly beaten 52-0 by No. 1 Alabama a week later. They made play after play on offense, including an SEC record 303 yards receiving and three touchdowns from Hamilton, but they had no answers for Nova and a Rutgers team that improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2006 and is now No. 23.
National championship for Arkansas?
Arkansas, which was 21-5 the last two seasons - including a the school's first BCS berth and a Cotton Bowl win last season - is just hoping to make a bowl game at this point. Any bowl.
It's a task that doesn't get any easier with back-to-back road games looming at Texas A&M and Auburn.
"If you would have told me we'd be 1-3 to start the season in August, it's hard to say ...," Hamilton said. "But like I say, we have to keep fighting and working together. We'll go back to practice Tuesday and work our tails off like we always do. Hopefully we can finish the game next week against A&M and start the season off."
While Arkansas' free-fall continued Saturday in its first season after the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino, Rutgers' resurgence continued in its first season under coach Kyle Flood.
Flood took over the Scarlet Knights in January after former coach Greg Schiano left to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The career assistant coach looked right at home helping Rutgers earn its first win over an SEC team since 2004 on Saturday, a win that followed a Big East-opening win over South Florida.
The Scarlet Knights have off next week before returning to conference action against Connecticut. They'll do so with a boost of confidence and a defense that intercepted Wilson - last season's first-team All-SEC quarterback - twice.
Running back Jawan Jamison brought his two-week total to 74 carries with a 33-carry, 118-yard effort against the Razorbacks. However, it was Nova's breakout and the attacking defense that harassed Wilson throughout that led to the win.
Rutgers trailed 10-0 early before rallying to take a 28-13 lead. Nova then staved off a late Arkansas comeback with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Mark Harrison.
"In the end, it was a win the Rutgers' way," Flood said. "Toughness, momentum swings, the ability to fight through adversity and big plays in the kicking game. The bye comes at a good time for us; we need to get healthy here. A win we're very proud of."
For the Razorbacks, the loss was hardly what they expected following the sound defeat to the Crimson Tide a week before - a loss Wilson missed with a concussion. Wilson said after that game that some of his teammates quit during the loss and promised to do his best to save Arkansas' season.
The senior put his best effort forward against Rutgers, but a secondary that allowed 412 yards passing to Louisiana-Monroe once again struggled to stop an opponents' passing game. The Razorbacks are now 111th in the country in pass defense, allowing 312.3 yards per game through the air.
"We made progress," Wilson said. "We made a progress from last Saturday to this Saturday. There was a lot of fight on that field from a lot of people.
"The look on everyone on the sideline told a different story this Saturday than it did the previous Saturday. We have the look and the intensity, now we have to get the execution where it needs to be."
The struggles left interim coach John L. Smith to explain another difficult loss, putting the former Michigan State and Louisville coach once again in the unenviable position of working in the shadow of Petrino - who was fired for hiring his mistress to a position in the athletic department and lying about her presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident.
"Our guys hung in there and they battled," Smith said. "I do appreciate our fans and their support. I know they are disappointed and they deserve better, and we're going to go to the field and give them that better.
"All we know how to do is battle. We're going to go to the field and improve."