Rutgers, Nova burn Razorbacks, 28-24
Photo: Walt Beazley, UA Athletics
Gary “Super” Nova and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights scorched the Arkansas Razorbacks for the second year in a row, coming back from a 17-point deficit and overcoming three turnovers to defeat the Hogs 28-24 Saturday at Piscataway, N.J.
It appeared the Razorbacks had knocked the Scarlet Knights out with two early third-quarter touchdowns that gave Arkansas a 24-7 lead However, Nova threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns after Janarian Grant lifted Rutgers off the mat and turned the game around with a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown and another 47-yard return that set up Nova’s first fourth-quarter touchdown.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013
Location: Reynolds Razorback Stadium
TV: ESPNU or ESPN2
The Razorbacks, playing without starting quarterback Brandon Allen who missed the game with a shoulder injury, led until the 5:18 mark of the fourth quarter when Nova hit Leonte Carroo on a 4-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Hogs struggled offensively with junior quarterback A.J. Derby subbing for Allen, converting only 3 of 14 first downs, passing for 182 yards and gaining 102 yards rushing, well under the Hogs’ season average of 294 rushing yards per game.
Derby completed 14 of 26 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, but several of his throws sailed high and his delivery was also slow at times making some receptions difficult for his receivers. Arkansas’ receivers also had some drops in key situations.
However, the ineffectiveness of Arkansas’ running game, on which the Hogs rely, was their largest offensive obstacle. Defensively, breakdowns in pass coverage across the middle and over the top eventually made the Hogs pay.
Offensive Play of the Game
On fourth-and-12 at the Arkansas 33, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova hit receiver Leonte Caroo for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 9:55 to play to pull the Scarlet Knights within 24-21 of the Razorbacks. The play shifted the momentum fully in the home team’s favor. Caroo came open when he was released by Razorback corner back Tevin Mitchell, who was expecting help over the top from freshman safety Jared Collins.
For the Hogs, Jonathan Williams threw a halfback pass for a touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry after a Rutgers turnover. The touchdown gave the Razorbacks a 24-7 lead with 8:38 left in the third quarter.
Defensive Play of the Game
After falling behind 28-21, the Razorbacks had a first-and-10 at their 45 off a nice throw from A.J. Derby to Keon Hatcher. But the Razorbacks offensive line failed to pick up a stunt up the middle and Rutgers defensive lineman Djwany Mera sacked Derby for a 9-yard loss. The Razorbacks weren’t able to recover for the lost yardage, losing five more yards on a screen to Jonathan Williams on second down and throwing incomplete on third down.
Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchell intercepted a Gary Nova pass with :21 left in the first quarter and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to give the Hogs a 10-0 lead.
Offensive Player of the Game
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova got off to a bit of a slow start, but he finished as hot as his name would suggest, leading Rutgers to a come-from-behind victory. After throwing for 397 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-26 victory at Razorback Stadium last year, he completed 22 of 43 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.
Nova, who was knocked out of Rutgers victory over Eastern Michigan last week with a concussion, struggled early with an interception and bumbled exchanges that led to two fumbles, but he was spot on in the fourth quarter.
Defensive Player of the Game
Linebacker Kevin Snyder led a strong overall effort by Rutgers with 10 tackles.
Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchell returned an interception for a 26-yard touchdown, broke up two passes and had seven tackles for the Hogs.
For the Hogs, Keon Hatcher caught 4 passes for 45 yards and had two carries for 19 yards in his first action of the season. He missed the first three games due to injury.
The Hogs had no turnovers, but suffered six penalties for 66 yards in losses, including a 15-yard personal foul on Jarrett Lake for a late hit on third down that extended Rutgers’ first touchdown drive.
Arkansas punter Sam Irwin-Hill’s rugby style punt with 2:14 left in the third quarter went left off his shoe to the middle of the field instead of to the right where Arkansas’ coverage was set to pin the punt returner to the sideline. As a result of the misfire, Rutgers’ returner Janarion Grant needed just one cutback move to make the Hogs pay. He returned the punt 58 yards for a touchdown that cut the Hogs’ lead to 24-14 and shifted the momentum into Rutgers’ favor for good.
With 2:49 to play, the Razorbacks punt-coverage team overran Zac Hocker’s 42-yard punt, giving Grant an alley down the middle for his 47-yard return that setup up Rutgers’ go-ahead score.
The Razorbacks return home to Reynolds Razorback Stadium to face a murderer’s row of opponents. At 6 p.m. on Sept. 28, the Hogs play host to the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies and 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
The Aggies are the first of six Top-25 rated opponents the Razorbacks will face this season. The Hogs travel to No. 19 Florida on Oct. 5, play host to No. 12 South Carolina on Oct. 12, travel to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 19, travel to No. 21 Ole Miss on Nov. 9 and close out the season at No. 6 LSU on Nov. 29.
Next Saturday will be the first time the Aggies, who played the Hogs yearly while both were members of the Southwest Conference, have visited Arkansas since 1990. Of course, the Razorbacks have played Texas A&M each of the last four seasons, winning three of the four games. However, Arkansas suffered a 58-10 beating from the Aggies last year at College Station, Texas, when Manziel had an SEC record-setting day.