Tusk to Tail: Chanting for Sam and dancing with Mother Bumper
“Happy days are here again.
The skies above are clear again.
Let us sing a song of cheer again.
Happy days are here again.”
– Milton Ager (music) & Jack Yellen (lyrics)
There was little joy in Fayetteville Saturday (Nov. 7) when the Razorbacks took the field for the second half against Tennessee. The Hogs had been shut out in the first half for the first time this season, trailing the Volunteers 13-0.
With a reduced capacity of only 16,500 fans due to the pandemic, Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium looked very much like it had in the second half of most games for the past few seasons, when hardly any fans stayed to the end to watch another massacre.
The last decade of Razorback football has been marred by unrest and upheaval. Arkansas burned through two athletic directors and five and a half head coaches, including interim coach Barry Lunney Jr., since Bobby Petrino’s squad won the Cotton Bowl to conclude the 2011 season. John L. Smith, Bret Bielema, and Chad Morris each figuratively crashed and burned as Petrino had so literally done before them.
Tusk to Tail had attended nearly every game, home and away, for the past 20 years, but watching the losses pile up was more than we could take. It was getting difficult to justify the effort and expense to follow the Hogs across the SEC. We hadn’t seen a conference win in more than two years. Arkansas football just wasn’t very fun anymore.
The Razorbacks exploded out of the tunnel straight to the scoreboard in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points to schlong the Vols 24-13. That’s a political term, by the way. You can look it up.
It was the fifth time in six games that Arkansas scored on their opening drive of the second half.
After years of blown leads and lopsided losses, the Hogs engineered the first comeback victory in ages. Arkansas overcame a 13-point deficit for the first time since squeaking by Coastal Carolina back in 2017. That was long before the Chanticleers had achieved Top 25 status. It was shortly before Bielema was fired.
Andrew Hutchinson tweeted that this was the most points scored against an SEC opponent by the Razorbacks in the third quarter since also scoring 24 against South Carolina in 1998. When the game ended with Jalen Catalon’s interception of a pass tipped by Hudson Clark, Hutchinson noted that it was the Hogs’ 11th interception so far this season after snaring only 11 total INTs the past two years combined. One more tweet said Arkansas had already held opponents scoreless for nine quarters of this SEC-only schedule.
“The Razorbacks’ defense had just eight shutout quarters all of last year. That included three against non-conference opponents,” Hutchinson concluded.
Who knew that hiring a defensive coordinator with an actual pulse would reap such rewards
Saturday’s victory featured plenty of offensive firepower, including three touchdowns by quarterback Felipe Franks and long receptions by Mike Woods and Treylon Burks. But few would disagree that the Hogs’ rapid turnaround is due in large part to Coach Sam Pittman hiring former Missouri head coach Barry Odom to run his defense. Odom should be strongly considered for the Broyles award for best assistant coach no matter what the Razorbacks’ record is at the end of the season.
During last year’s beheading by Western Kentucky and former Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey, a few of our gang had some choice words about Coach Morris and possibly the horse he rode in on. We wanted him fired, which happened the following morning. Our comments were overheard by Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool’s parents, who were not amused.
“We want what is best for the kids,” said Mrs. Pool.
Saturday night, the jumbotron “fan cam” showed Mother Bumper dancing like no one was watching, waving her hands in the air like she just didn’t care. She seems to approve of the job Pittman and Odom are doing, as well she should. Entering the game, Pool led the SEC and ranked third in the country by averaging 12.5 tackles per game. Bumper had a team high 14 tackles on Saturday. It feels like the stadium announcer calls his name after every play.
The student section is all aboard the Sam tram too, chanting his name near the end of the game. At the final whistle, the students charged down the bleachers to greet the players and sing the Arkansas Fight Song. No one leaves games early anymore. Everyone is having too much fun.
Last week’s loss at Texas A&M could likely be attributed to the difference in each teams’ talent. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggie recruiting classes are consistently among the top rated, while Arkansas is forced to start a handful of current and former walk-ons. But the Razorbacks never stopped battling, just like they stormed back to beat Tennessee.
With a game at #6 Florida this week, Arkansas could find themselves outmanned again. But as our man Forrest says, “You can’t measure heart.” Forrest also likes to say that good teams win, while great teams cover. The Hogs are a perfect 6-0 against the point spread this year, consistently exceeding the so-called experts’ expectations.
Spending Saturday nights with 16,000 socially distanced fans has become the new normal, and Tusk to Tail is here for it. Disgruntled fans have become a thing of the past. We are all thoroughly gruntled now.
Happy days are here again.
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.