Tusk to Tail: It’s time to give ‘The Boot’ to Marc-with-a-C
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, our friend Jeb woke up feeling grateful. He felt moved to write out some of the things for which he was thankful. By the end of the Razorbacks’ 27-24 loss to LSU just a few hours later, Tusk to Tail was not feeling thankful at all.
Most of us were downright resentful. If Jeb’s story was the Thanksgiving Special, then consider this the Festivus for the rest of us. Let us begin with the traditional airing of grievances.
Many fans wish the LSU-Arkansas matchup was still the Hogs’ official rivalry game. Playing the Bayou Bengals for The Boot trophy on the day after Thanksgiving had become SEC tradition. Some of our favorite Razorback memories come from that game, including the Miracle on Markham, Darren McFadden bringing the wood to Baton Rouge, or storming the War Memorial Stadium field when Arkansas earned a Sugar Bowl bid in 2010.
The LSU series has not had quite the same allure once Texas A&M was designated as their Rivalry Week opponent. Our so-called rivalry with Missouri has failed to produce that level of excitement so far, as well.
For some teams, this week’s game may not have been played at all. Arkansas was missing several key players due to positive coronavirus tests, and barely had enough healthy players to compete. Senior running back Rakeem Boyd and six defensive linemen, among others, were forced to sit the game out for the Razorbacks. The Hogs’ attrition impacted the gambling line, swinging Arkansas from a 2-point favorite to a 2-point underdog during the week.
LSU had already postponed games against Florida and Alabama due to COVID outbreak this season. Presumably the SEC did not want last year’s national champions to miss a third. So the show must go on, even if the show basically amounts to a junior varsity matchup.
Of course the pandemic doesn’t just affect the players. COVID-19 is beginning to hit closer to home. Two families within our tailgating circle are sick with the virus, and a third has family members in quarantine. You can’t just offer your extra tickets to a friend anymore. You need to see the results of their antibody test first.
If you don’t catch the ‘rona, pneumonia could still be in play. Fayetteville’s weekend weather forecast had originally called for extended periods of sunshine and temps in the mid-60s. I not only packed sunglasses, I brought sunscreen. Rain jackets and ponchos were left at home. So of course the skies opened up with a chilly downpour midway through the second half. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks had been successfully connecting with receivers on long passes downfield before the rain made the ball harder to throw, catch, or even see.
“The weather and the officials are always against us,” Craig said.
When Hog fans air their grievances, they usually begin and end with lousy officiating. It might seem like we are suffering a persecution complex, but all of the veteran network announcers and other respected media agree that the Hogs are getting screwed. It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.
SEC official Marc Curles has become Public Enemy Number One in Arkansas. How’s this for a greatest hits package? In the 2009 Florida game, Curles and his crew appeared so biased against Arkansas that they were suspended. An official apology was issued by the SEC Commissioner. A 2016 online petition to ban Curles from officiating Arkansas games was started by a Hog blogger, citing bogus calls from the current and previous seasons. Earlier this season, Curles first ruled that a mishandled snap and backwards spike of the ball by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was not a fumble before changing his explanation to say that it was indeed a fumble, but Arkansas did not recover before he blew the play dead. The ruling cost Arkansas a win. It did not cost Curles his job. Another apology was issued.
On Saturday, our good friend Marc-with-a-C was sucking the whistle again. He went straight to an old standby in the first half, ruling there was no LSU fumble before reversing the call to be a fumble, but no clear recovery. Arkansas had come out of the scrum with the ball. Justice was ultimately served during that possession when Arkansas recovered another LSU fumble.
Had Saturday’s missed fumble recovery been Curles’ biggest blunder of the afternoon, I doubt we would be mentioning his name. As it turns out, thousands of Hog fans know more about the targeting penalty than a head SEC referee. Curles confirmed a targeting call against Arkansas star freshman safety Jalen Catalon, ejecting him from the game. Catalon had to watch LSU score their go-ahead touchdown from the sideline. The penalty yardage against him helped facilitate the score.
Replays showed Catalon lower his shoulder and turn his body to avoid leading with his head when tackling LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte. Coach Sam Pittman said Catalon looked like Catalon was “trying to avoid the receiver’s helmet as well.” Any contact with Boutte’s head and neck area occurred because the receiver was already slipping on the rain soaked field. It was as clean of a hit that you could ask for in this era of concussion protocol.
But that’s not how Marc Curles ruled it. I hate to blame a loss on bad officiating, but it feels like Curles stole yet another win from Arkansas. Nearly everyone with two eyes agrees that Arkansas would be 5-3, not 3-5, if any other officiating crew in the world had called this year’s games against Auburn and LSU. How can the league office continue to allow that to happen? Obviously the 2016 petition did not keep Curles from working Arkansas games, but the SEC needs to consider the optics before assigning him here again.
The weather was bad, the officiating was bad, and even the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium looks like ass.
“They aren’t overseeding like they should, aren’t using blankets, mowing the same patterns,” explained Forrest. “Look at those scalp marks. It’s pretty embarrassing.”
But since it’s really not my style to bitch and moan, I’ll end this airing of grievances on a positive note. Unlike what we have seen in previous seasons, these Hogs refuse to quit. The only difference between the Razorbacks and the defending champion Tigers is that they have a guy who can make 49-yard field goals, and right now we do not.
I truly appreciate what Pittman and his staff are building here at Arkansas. Better days are coming.
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.