Tusk to Tail: A big serving of KJ with a little ‘Arkansauce’ on top
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Dad’s Weekend 2021 is now in the books for several Greek organizations on The Hill. It was the first big one since some of Tusk to Tail’s sons and daughters started going to school at the University of Arkansas. These kids grew up around our tailgate and somehow managed to develop into fine young students.
My son and Craig’s son both joined the same fraternity. I told someone that I “was” in the same fraternity at another college, but got corrected. I “am” in the same fraternity, because membership is for life. I understand Greek life is not for all, but I would tell you that the Interfraternal and Panhellenic organizations have many fine redeeming qualities.
I will also tell you that I joined mostly because they had parties with bands and kegs and sorority girls. I wasn’t planning a lifetime commitment, yet here we are 30 years later. I doubt any of my pledge brothers would be shocked to find me still partying at the house.
Thanks to the UA athletic department, you don’t have to go through rush to attend parties with bands and kegs and sorority girls. Just get yourself down to HogTown on Maple Street. Once considered our loud, annoying neighbor, HogTown has really grown into a fun, family-friendly street festival. I saw thousands of Arkansas fans and a even a few Mississippi State fans roaming the street before the game.
This week featured Arkansauce, a local “genre-hopping, four piece string band” performing on the main stage. Nearly everyone seemed to enjoy their set of originals and bluegrass standards. A small sea of heads bobbed to the sounds of upright bass and banjo. I commend Associate Athletic Director Elvis Moya and his staff for booking Arkansauce over another 80s or 90s cover band.
HogTown was just a part of the gameday festivities on this picturesque autumn afternoon. Next door in Victory Village, the Tusk to Tailgate was in motion before my wife and I showed up with Craig a little after 8 a.m. That is considered late by TTT standards, even though nobody else had shown up at the other tents yet. We had been allowed to sleep off a bit of the first night of Dad’s Weekend at the airbnb we were sharing. Craig’s wife dropped by our tent later, but skipped the game to enjoy some of her favorite shops around Fayetteville.
I was pleasantly surprised by the attendance and atmosphere all day long. Our tailgate hosted several friends and neighbors who were visiting their children on campus. Mark was joined by both of his sons, including Zach and his fiancee Lyle, visiting from Colorado and attending her first Razorbacks game. Some of our guests had ties to Mississippi State, such as @fakewallyhall, who met his wife in Starkville.
“Don’t know what you got until it’s gone,” sang Cinderella, and our first lady of tailgating reminded us that it’s true. Kara had previous commitments that kept her away from our party until almost kickoff. Her trusty sidekick Casey was also AWOL, leaving our officially licensed Arkansas Razorbacks bar virtually un-tended for a bit. Whitney filled in admirably, but looked relieved to clock out once Kara arrived. Serving drinks to our mob can feel like throwing water on a grease fire.
Some pre-game cocktail banter recalled the last time the Bulldogs visited Fayetteville in 2019. It was a similarly gorgeous afternoon, but that was about the only thing the games had in common. There was no joy in Fayetteville two years ago.
Both teams ended up firing their coaches in 2019. Chad Morris would only last another week as head Hog after getting blown out by the Bulldogs 54-24. That performance in an empty stadium made it excruciatingly obvious that the Arkansas players and fans had given up on the beleaguered coach. The only redeeming detail was the debut of quarterback KJ Jefferson, who directed a 75-yard drive in the 4th quarter, capped off by a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
Two years later, both teams are on the rise. Mississippi State coach Mike Leach had been a potential candidate for the 2019 Arkansas vacancy, but was reportedly not interested in rebuilding the Hogs. Leach was just one of several candidates rumored to rebuff the Razorbacks before Sam Pittman was finally hired. Now this matchup’s winner would become eligible for a bowl game. Nothing says your program has made it like spending the New Year in Shreveport.
Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Razorback Stadium, beginning with a flyover from Arkansas Army National Guard’s Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters. The Hogs’ helmets included decals from each military branch, as well as a star-spangled Razorbacks decal filled in by the U.S. flag. The stadium was mostly full, with the exception of the upper part of the visitor’s section.
This was the first game Arkansas played since the bye week. Offensive Coordinator Kendall Briles has obviously refreshed the playbook. The first play was a double pass by receiver Treylon Burks, as Briles keeps creating ways to get the ball in Burks’ massive hands. It wasn’t the last pass by a receiver, though De’Vion Warren’s attempt was also incomplete. The Hogs continued to rotate their deep platoon of running backs, but Dominique Johnson has assumed the lead role. Johnson rushed 17 times for 107 yards, two touchdowns, and a crucial two-point conversion.
In addition to Johnson and the running game eating up yards in chunks, Saturday’s game featured more of the same story lines we have seen all season. The Razorbacks’ defense continues to bend but rarely break, pitching a first quarter shutout for the 7th time in 9 games. Burks further elevated his draft stock with 121 total yards and another receiving TD. Kicker Cam Little hit 3 of 4 field goals, including a personal best 51-yarder, proving the value of a reliable kicking game. And the SEC officials somehow managed to both call and miss several penalties that they shouldn’t have.
But the real story on this Dad’s Weekend was all about growth and development. That big dude we first saw two years ago wearing number 1 is now QB1. Jefferson has quietly become a stone cold killer on the gridiron, completing 19 of 23 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown Saturday. As Andrew Hutchinson tweeted, “In 10 career starts, KJ Jefferson has led Arkansas on three potential game-winning/game-tying 75-yard TD drives that ended with less than 45 seconds on the clock. He’s accounted for 168 of those 225 yards, completing 18 of 23 passes for 163 yards and 2 TDs + 5 rush yards.”
It has been exciting to see Jefferson and the Hogs’ progress. The Razorbacks earned a trip to a bowl game, and there are still three games to play. That performance and a nearly full stadium all the way to the final whistle have made it clear that Arkansas players and fans are all-in on Coach Pittman.
Editor’s note: Now in its 10th year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.