FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton had no idea he was setting a Southeastern Conference record as the yards piled up Saturday night.
The senior and the rest of the Arkansas offense was too busy trying to carve into the Rutgers lead during an eventual 35-26 loss.
“We were so focused on scoring,” Hamilton said. “We weren’t winning.
“So you really didn’t think you had all those yards.”
It was even harder for Hamilton to enjoy when he found out, too, because his record-setting receiving effort came in another loss that dropped Arkansas to 1-3. But Hamilton woke up Sunday as the SEC’s single-game leader for receiving yards in a game after catching 10 passes for 303 yards with 3 touchdowns in the loss.
The Texarkana native broke the SEC mark held by former LSU receiver Josh Reed, who had 293 yards in 2001. Hamilton’s effort Saturday also set the Arkansas school record, which was set by Jarius Wright (281 yards) in last year’s win against Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium.
Hamilton did it with several big plays, including an 80-yard touchdown catch that pulled Arkansas to within 28-26 in the fourth quarter. He also had 57-, 54-, 29- and 26-yard catches, carving through the Rutgers secondary on his record night.
“He played his butt off,” said Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who challenged players to will the Hogs to a win last week. “He competed and came back, and it really started this week in practice. Because he knew he didn’t play very well last week, didn’t step up when we needed him. He played unbelievable (Saturday night), and now he might as well do it every week. He needs to do it every week.”
Hamilton and Wilson were on the same page early, connecting on a 54-yard play on Arkansas’ first possession. It set up a field goal that gave the Hogs a 3-0 lead.
Wilson found Hamilton again two possessions later. The 57-yard touchdown pass ended a long drought by the Razorbacks, who hadn’t reached the end zone in 99 minutes, 22 seconds. It was Hamilton’s second touchdown catch of the season.
Hamilton had four catches for 138 yards and the touchdown in the first quarter, but couldn’t produce much more before halftime. Arkansas’ offense struggled after building the lead before Wilson and Hamilton began connecting again late.
“We found a little connection there in the middle part of the game,” Wilson said. “Late third, early fourth where we chunked a lot of those yards together.
“It’s good that we’re kind of on the same page now. We’ve got to get everybody in that kind of sequence.”
Wilson was referring Wilson to Arkansas’ redzone woes Saturday.
The Razorbacks were inside the Rutgers 20 on five drives, but scored only two touchdowns with the opportunities. Arkansas had to settle for two field goals and wasted another chance with an interception.
Wilson threw an interception in the endzone to end on drive. Freshman receiver Mekale McKay dropped a touchdown pass on another, resulting in a field goal.
“If we convert like we need to convert in the redzone, we put 45 points on the board easy,” Wilson said. “We had four possessions inside the 20 where we kick ourselves in the tail and don’t execute. I can’t throw a pick. We can’t drop a touchdown. On third and one we’ve to convert. … We’re not executing when we need to.”
Hamilton felt like he could’ve done even more, too.
The receiver was referring to a 29-yard completion in the third quarter, when he was inches away from another touchdown. Hamilton caught a pass in between defenders and tried to cut across to the middle of the field for what could’ve been a 45-yard touchdown. But Hamilton was tripped up and went down at the Rutgers 16.
Arkansas eventually settled for a field goal on the drive.
“I was frustrated with myself because coach Paul always says if you have an opportunity to score, don’t leave it in the kickers hands or anybody else’s hands,” Hamilton said. “So I was disappointed with myself with that mistake.”
It’s hard to fault Hamilton’s efforts, though.
The Razorbacks needed his production to simply keep pace with a Rutgers offense that had little trouble moving the ball against Arkansas. Hamilton responded with the SEC record for receiving yards in a game. He also became just the third Razorback to catch three touchdown passes in a game, equaling a mark held by Alton Baldwin (1944 and 1945) and Anthony Lucas (1999).
Hamilton just wanted a win to go with it.
“I would trade all my yards,” Hamilton said. “We came here to win.”