Tusk to Tail: A headline for this story was wrongfully blown dead by SEC refs
Just about every sports team has had a moment when things went awry with the officials. Cowboys fans say, “Dez caught it.” Saints fans cry, “Pass interference!” Fans of the Crimson Tide say … Just kidding. Bama never gets bad calls against them. But even the New England Patriots had to overcome Spygate, Deflategate, and who knows how many undetected -gates during their Super Bowl residency this century.
The Arkansas Razorbacks could be in a class by themselves. They have been screwed so many times by the refs, the Hogs could have their own PornHub channel.
There have been countless calls against the Hogs when there shouldn’t, and no call against the opponent when there should have been over the years. But few in recent memory swayed a game like Saturday’s blunder by the referees. If a close loss or consistent effort can be called a moral victory, then each time the Razorbacks have a win stolen away by the officials should be considered an amoral loss.
It was ever thus.
Many feel an uncalled clipping penalty allowed Texas to score the winning 2-point conversion in the 1969 “Big Shootout.” I still remember the delayed pass interference call against Arkansas in 1982 that sent SMU’s “Pony Express” to the Cotton Bowl. The officials blew it so badly in the 2009 Florida game that they were suspended. An apology was issued to Arkansas. But Tim Tebow’s Gators still won.
There is no denying that complaining about referees is loser talk. We never talk about their calls in a winning effort. Saturday’s infraction, however, happened as the Hogs were protecting a 28-27 lead. Auburn was driving to attempt the winning field goal after kicker Anders Carlson had missed a 34-yarder on the previous possession. Out of timeouts, Tigers’ quarterback Bo Nix tried to spike the ball to stop the clock on third-and-1 at the Arkansas 20. Nix fumbled the snap, picked the ball up, and turned around to spike it.
Because of the fumbled snap, this was no longer a typical spiked ball situation. The officials ruled that spiking the ball was intentional grounding, as there was no intended receiver. But because Nix had thrown the ball backwards, it should have been considered a fumbled live ball. The refs were whistling the play dead as the Razorbacks recovered the loose ball. Contrary to what could be clearly seen on video replays, the lead game official told Arkansas coach Sam Pittman that the ball was not thrown backward. The grounding call was upheld, and Auburn retained possession. Carlson made the subsequent 39-yard kick for a 30-28 lead that became the final score seven seconds later.
The SEC officiating office gave an official statement following the game admitting that Nix’s pass was thrown behind him and should have been considered a live ball. The referees made a mistake blowing the play dead. The league office justified not awarding possession to the Razorbacks “because recovery of the football was not clearly made in the immediate continuing football action.” Thinking the ball had been spiked as planned, several Auburn players stood flat footed as Arkansas defender Joe Foucha scooped up the loose ball. Had more players made an attempt to recover, the refs would have been forced to find a new way to cheat the Hogs.
“According to the SEC, if you don’t recover the ball before a whistle is wrongfully blown, even though you do recover the fumble, then the fumble is not a fumble,” Mark explained on our group text thread of Tusk to Tailgaters.
Such is life as an Arkansas Razorbacks fan. It’s a shame that this latest serving of putrid officiating taints an otherwise solid effort by the Hogs. Arkansas was missing some key components on offense, most notably running back Rakeem Boyd and receiver Treylon Burks. Their replacements performed adequately, highlighted by Arizona State transfer running back Trelon Smith’s 81 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving. When Boyd returns, the Hogs will have a nifty little 1-2 punch in the backfield.
The Razorbacks battled hard. Once down 17-0, Feleipe Franks threw a 30 yard touchdown strike to De’Vion Warren to give Arkansas the lead with just 5:43 left in the game. My phone erupted with celebratory texts.
“Lots of screaming, whooping, hollering, crying, and otherwise unrestrained emotional outbursts in my home right now,” tweeted KATV news anchor Chris May. “And I’m alone.”
Chris’ brother Craig is known by TTT as the Godfather of Tailgating due to his 20-plus year nearly-perfect attendance record at every Arkansas football game, home and away. Though pandemic seating restrictions have thwarted any possible travel plans this season, Craig seems to have adjusted nicely. Like most of us, Craig watched Texas A&M and Mizzou upset Florida and LSU, respectively before the Hogs took the field. A wild four-overtime finish to the Red River rivalry carried over after our game had begun. Updates were texted to those who could not flip between games.
Our group conversation naturally devolved to bashing fired coach Chad Morris, now Auburn’s offensive coordinator. It was evident we have not forgiven his contribution to the Hogs’ 20-game SEC losing streak finally snapped by Pittman last week. We laughed at the number of Auburn players who had commented how much better Arkansas has played this season, when one of the only changes to the team had been getting rid of Morris.
The play of Arkansas has indeed improved, but they’ve still got a long way to go. The Razorbacks’ defense, the shining star of this young season, repeatedly missed tackles on the plains. The D was unable to snare any turnovers outside of the recovered fumble that wasn’t. The Razorbacks offense didn’t always fare much better. The aptly named reverse play always sends the Hogs backwards. And in both of this season’s losses, Franks has been pulled at the goal line for an inexperienced backup quarterback. This week’s reliever was true freshman Malik Hornsby, who rushed two times for the loss of a yard before settling for a field goal. About the only thing I know about Hornsby is that 8 different quarterbacks played for the Razorbacks the past two seasons, and he was not one of them.
Special teams continue to struggle, and were the difference between a win and a loss Saturday. George Caratan’s punt was blocked by Jordyn Peters for a first quarter touchdown. Multiple illegal formation penalties were called on the punting unit, and the Hogs continue to outkick their coverage to set up long returns. Caratan’s mishandled snap cost Arkansas an extra point on their first touchdown, leading to two more failed conversions as they chased the lost points in earnest.
Tiring of the term moral victory, we will file this game as an amoral loss. What should have been a Razorback win was stolen away by the hapless officiating crew. Craig helps keep us grounded, texting “If you put the game in the officials’ or the other team’s hands, you get what you deserve. Bitching about the officials has never changed the outcome of a game.”
“Overall it was a good effort,” Craig continued. “Auburn’s talent is light years ahead of ours and we still had several opportunities to win.”
Indeed the future looks bright as the Arkansas players and coaches get into a groove. Athletic director Hunter Yurachek had the final word Saturday in regards to firing Morris to hire Pittman.
“It’s obvious we had the right coach today.”
Editor’s note: Now in its ninth 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.