Tusk to Tail: After wandering the football desert, 4-0 points to the promised land

“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
– Willie Nelson

From the Old Testament to the songs of Willie Nelson, humankind has regularly been on the move. Whether roaming the desert or making music with our friends, we travel from Point A to Point B in search of something at least temporarily better. For a whole lot of Arkies, Dallas and the Hogs scratched that itch this weekend.

The last road game Tusk to Tail attended was Kentucky back in October 2019. COVID-19 restrictions pulled us off the road in 2020, but most of us had voluntarily skipped the maulings at Alabama and LSU the previous season. Those games were allegedly coached by Chad Morris and Barry Lunney, Jr. before Sam Pittman was hired. We’ve come a long way, baby.

TTT’s Texas turnout this weekend was fairly modest for a group our size. Several in our pack were keeping their powder dry for next week’s journey to Athens, Ga. The same could apparently not be said for the Arkansas student body. All three UA students who have TTT parents drove to Dallas on Friday. My son, a UA sophomore, forwarded me a screenshot displaying his Snapchat friends’ location early that evening. Nearly every single person he knew on social media was in Dallas or on their way there.

I was afraid to ask how the younger generation spent their free time in Dallas, but us older folks willingly played the role of tourists, pumping our dollars into the local economy. We each made obligatory stops at Buc-ees. My wife Rebecca shopped at North Park and The Shops at Park Lane while I filled a shopping cart at Total Wines, one of several enormous Texas liquor stores.

We joined Sam and Jim for happy hour at the Thirsty Lion next to our hotel before dinner. Those two drove to Fort Worth’s famed Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant where they drank pitchers of skinny margaritas and dispensed life advice to a nearby table of young Aggie fans. Neither seemed to recall much of what had been discussed.

Still full from a late lunch, Rebecca and I chose to eat local at a nearby sushi joint. She noted how everything so far had just seemed meant to be. She found the shoes she had been looking for. The restaurant played her favorite songs and served her favorite wine. Life was good.

“We should buy a lottery ticket,” Rebecca said.

The real gamble could be eating sushi the night before a tailgate where the only restroom is a sweltering parking lot porta potty, I replied.

Saturday morning was game day. Dale, Forrest, and the rest of our gang met up with Brad and Karen at the Walmart across from the stadium to buy last-minute tailgate supplies. The Razorback Marching Band had already taken over the parking lot’s back forty. Our goal was to be set up in Lot 13 by 9 a.m. Unfortunately, JerryWorld does not open their lots for tailgating until four hours before kickoff, which in this case would be 10:30. Still, arriving early allowed us to grab one of the coveted grassy spots by the road to set up our tents.

Within minutes, operations were underway. Chef Brad fired up his smoker and loaded it full of ribs, chicken, and sausage. A generator powered one speaker for Dale’s tailgate playlist and another for our satellite tv. Coolers were filled with beer and ice. The sidewalks around the stadium soon sprung to life. Several Arkansas coeds wore cowboy boots and short denim cut-offs. So did some of the Aggie dudes. A never ending stream of Corps cadets tapped their way down the sidewalk. Hog fans waved, winked, or woo pigged as they walked past, acknowledging an unwritten code of solidarity. We are all in this together.

Despite being a five and a half point underdog, Arkansas had given Tusk to Tail plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Following a sluggish first half against Rice to kickoff the 2021 season, the Razorbacks have forged a tough, physical old school football identity. It starts with a stifling defense and just running the damn ball with a platoon of running backs who charge and trample defenders like a herd of wild rhinos. Six different Arkansas ball carriers had rushes of 12 yards or longer Saturday, highlighted by a pair of 19-yard bursts by Trelon Smith and quarterback KJ Jefferson.

Heading into the game, there was no denying that recent history tilted heavily in the Aggie’s favor. A&M had an 11-game winning streak dating back to last season, the second longest winning streak in the country behind Alabama. The Aggies also brought in a 9-year winning streak against Arkansas, dating back to when Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012.

What first stood out to me is that Arkansas has a swagger I haven’t seen since the Petrino era. After drilling a 46-yard 1st quarter field goal, freshman kicker Cam Little casually mimed shooting a midrange jumper. When a defender held on to Smith’s ankles while getting steamrolled at the sideline, Smith wrestled away from his grasp like he was scraping a bug off of his shoe. The Razorbacks defense set the tone early, often pressuring Aggie quarterback Zach Calzada while only rushing three linemen.

Once momentum shifted to the Aggies near the end of the first half, the Razorbacks’ sphincters seemed to reflexively pucker. A failed 4th down conversion took a practically guaranteed field goal off the scoreboard for the Hogs, and allowed A&M to kick a 49-yard field goal of their own before halftime. When Aggie RB Isaiah Spiller made a 67-yard house call to pull within a touchdown, I began to fear the worst. Jefferson was out with a knee injury, and leading receiver Treylon Burks would exit the game as well.

When the Hogs needed it most, it was the defense’s footprints in the sand carrying them to victory. Montaric Brown’s diving interception was the break Arkansas needed to beat Texas A&M 20-10. The perfect weekend was fulfilled.

“Nobody kicks our ass 10 times in a row,” I said back at the tailgate. “At least not this side of Alabama.”

You may have heard some of the crazy season stats. For the first time since 1988, Arkansas defeated Texas and Texas A&M in the same season. It is the first time the Razorbacks started 4-0 since 2003, and the first time all four wins came by double digits since 1986. The #8 Hogs are ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 2012.

The Hogs have a hell of a matchup against #2 Georgia this weekend, and Tusk to Tail is there for it. After a year in quarantine and a decade spent wandering the football desert, we can’t wait to get on the road again.

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.

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