Tusk to Tail: Game 20 of the Morris era and we’re measuring different levels of suck
Before the Alabama game, an announcer asked if it could be “upset Saturday.” Fifth-ranked Oklahoma and #15 Texas had already lost to unranked teams, and Bama was without Heisman candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The top-ranked Crimson Tide answered by capitalizing on Arkansas errors early and often, racing out to a 41-0 halftime lead and eventual 48-7 victory.
The only ones upset were the Razorback fans.
It’s not as though anyone in their right mind expected Arkansas to defeat the Crimson giant. The score itself wasn’t even a surprise. The Hogs have been 30-plus point underdogs to the Tide for at least the past three seasons. Arkansas has felt Alabama coach Nick Saban’s boot upon their necks for each of the 13 years he has coached there.
But this is game number 20 of the Coach Chad Morris experiment in Fayetteville. Fans expected noticeable signs of improvement by now, even if they don’t manifest themselves on the scoreboard. Instead, the Hogs are a football follies blooper reel, a never-ending stream of blunders and gaffes.
Quarterback Nick Starkel drew the short straw this week, starting in place of Ben Hicks, who was still recovering from the prior week’s encounter with the meat grinder known as Auburn’s defense. The two transfers have been dueling all season to see who could suck less, but are virtually interchangeable parts of the Electrolux Morris has assembled.
Starkel combined completions of 22 and 15 yards with a couple of passes behind his intended receiver before diminutive redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones entered the game for a play. Jones threw a 10-yard strike to running back Rakeem Boyd at midfield, then immediately ceded the ball back to Starkel.
“The spark from Highland Park,” texted Forrest, a reference to Jones’ Dallas high school alma mater where Morris’ son Chandler now plays.
Jones won two state championships at the esteemed high school, but remains better known for being the grandson of Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry has donated generously to the University of Arkansas, and is rumored to have lobbied to get Morris his job there.
“That’s another Arkansas Razorback … $10 million donation … I mean FIRST DOWN,” replied Willard.
The wheels started coming off once Starkel returned. Center Ty Clary drifted the ball end over end high above his quarterback’s head, where it was scooped up by Alabama defender Christian Harris and returned to the Arkansas 14-yard line. The Tide scored one play later.
That Arkansas drive had begun with a kickoff fair caught by De’Vion Warren along the sideline. Starting at the 25-yard line is ok, but had Warren allowed the kick to continue out of bounds, the ensuing penalty would have placed the ball on the 40. The next kickoff was fielded by preferred walk-on Nathan Parodi on the opposite boundary’s 2-yard line, where he promptly stepped out of bounds. Not recognizing where the ball was heading cost the Hogs 53 valuable yards. Following punter Sam Loy’s god-awful interception last week and the infamous fake fair catch by North Texas last year, I’m starting to think special teams may not be Morris’ thing.
Unless you switched to the World Series or Michigan’s rout of Notre Dame, you know how the rest of the game went. Starkel threw three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown seconds before halftime. That may be only two more interceptions than our punter threw last week, but it was enough to keep Starkel off the field for the second half.
Jones finished the game completing 6 of his 7 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown to tight end Cheyenne O’Grady. It was O’Grady’s 12th career touchdown, the most ever by a tight end at Arkansas. Other Razorbacks battled until the end, including receiver Treylon Burks and safety Joe Foucha, whose 13 tackles led the defense by a wide margin. Remarkably, Arkansas committed no penalties in the game.
Mark, the only Tusk to Tail member deranged enough to travel to Tuscaloosa, saw other bright spots by the Hogs. He noted that the Arkansas offensive line allowed only one sack, and the offense had few negative plays at all outside of the turnovers. The defense was in a hole all night, but made a few crucial stops. Mark also observed that many young Razorbacks repeatedly returned to the bench to attentively receive in-game coaching by the beleaguered staff. Mark swears that his optimism was not fueled by drinking on the job. He doesn’t work for Rivals.
Others were not so kind. Fans on social media slandered Starkel and called for Morris to be fired. So-called experts including Clay Travis and Little Rock radio host Randy Rainwater predicted the end of the Morris era at Arkansas. Travis has made a living by stirring up passionate fan bases, but Rainwater throwing shade feels different. If you’ve lost Randy Rainwater, you’ve lost mouth-breathing America.
Few opinions matter outside of Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and the University’s Board of Trustees. Most everyone seems to agree that Morris has to beat Western Kentucky, led by Arkansas castoff QB Ty Storey, on Nov. 9 to retain his job security. A conference win over Mississippi State this weekend would certainly help Morris’ cause, as well. It would be the first Power 5 victory in Morris’ career as a head coach.
After taking a week off tailgating, TTT is anxious to get back under the Big Top to chop it up. On to Mississippi State.
Editor’s note: Now in its eighth 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. Tusk to Tail sponsors are the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program and Turn Key Construction Management. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.