Even a dismal year for Arkansas hasn't tempered the performance of Cobi Hamilton.
The wide receiver's latest act of excellence helped the Razorbacks rally for a 19-15 win over Tulsa on Saturday, keeping their slim bowl chances alive. The 11-catch, 177-yard performance also highlighted a record-breaking season by Hamilton, who has made the extraordinary look routine.
Hamilton set the Arkansas single-season receptions record in the win, breaking current Minnesota Vikings rookie Jarius Wright's mark of 66 catches in a season. The senior now has 69 catches for 1,077 yards — only 40 yards short of Wright's school single-season yards record of 1,117.
It's a mark Hamilton figures to break next week when the Razorbacks (4-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) travel to No. 12 South Carolina.
"It means a lot as far as a personal goal, but hopefully (we) get the team to win," Hamilton said. "We want to finish these last three games out and play hard, play Arkansas football and just finish well."
Hamilton's two biggest catches Saturday came on the Razorbacks' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Trailing 15-13 to the Golden Hurricane (7-2, 5-0 Conference USA), who appeared poised for their first win over Arkansas since 1976, Hamilton caught 41- and 14-yard passes on back-to-back plays — giving the Razorbacks the ball at the Tulsa 1-yard line.
Dennis Johnson, who finished with 109 yards rushing on 22 carries, ran in to for his second touchdown of the game one play later to give Arkansas the lead for good — a refreshing feeling following a last-second loss to Mississippi a week earlier. The Razorbacks, after beginning the season ranked in the top 10, must now win two of their last three games to earn bowl eligibility for a fourth straight season.
"That's an improvement from last week, of course, but we've got to do better," Hamilton said. "We don't want to make it that close. There's 80,000 people up there nervous, and me included, so we want to make it better and hopefully we finish well next week, a better start and a better finish."
Arkansas' relief following the win was equaled by the Golden Hurricane's disappointment.
Tulsa rallied from an early 10-0 deficit and outplayed the Razorbacks for much of the game. Quarterback Cody Green, returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out two weeks earlier against Rice, was 15 of 18 passing in the first half before struggling to a 7-of-15 effort in the second half and finished 22 of 37 for 222 yards.
Tulsa outgained Arkansas 203-158 in total yardage in the first half, but it trailed 13-12 after a pair of failed extra-point attempts and a missed 42-yard field goal by kicker Daniel Schwarz. Tulsa, which has now lost 18 straight to the Razorbacks, allowed only one Arkansas score in the second half — Johnson's game-winning touchdown.
"Arkansas has jumped out on everyone early with the way they move the ball," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "Dennis Johnson is something we don't practice against or face often. Once we got up to game-speed defensively, we were OK.
"I love the way our team competes and plays, and it sticks in your gut because I felt that we should have won."
Johnson's touchdown was set up following Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson's two big completions to Hamilton, who leads the SEC and is 4th nationally with an average of 119.7 yards receiving per game.
Hamilton spent much of the last three seasons in the shadows of former Arkansas receivers Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams — who were each taken in the fourth round of April's NFL draft. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Hamilton, however, has evolved from overlooked to last man standing this season for the injury-riddled Razorbacks.
With tight end Chris Gragg once again out with a leg injury, Hamilton was one of the few proven options at receiver for Arkansas. That was just fine by Wilson, who finished 21 of 31 passing for 272 yards and has looked for Hamilton at every opportunity this season.
"Any quarterback has one really good receiver that they feel very comfortable with," Wilson said. "All the greats: Montana-Rice, Brady-Welker, a number of different relationships there, and for me this year.
"Last year it was Wright, this year it's Cobi. You've got to have a guy you go to when it's crunch time, and he's done an incredible job. I think he's one of the best receivers in the country."