Tusk to Tail: ‘My Heart Will Go On’ being disappointed and dumbfounded
If you believe in omens, this one was right out of central casting. It had been a perfect autumn day, considering the season the Razorbacks (2-7) are having. The sunny blue sky warmed the brisk November morning to create a joyous Homecoming atmosphere throughout Victory Village and the HogTown street festival.
Dedicated Hog fans swayed to funky party classics performed by Rosy Hips. The band had time for one more song to showcase their talented lead singer.
“Freebird?” Yeah, right. “Brown Eyed Girl?” Already played. How about a little Celine Dion?
So help me, the song they chose to fire up the crowd for Arkansas football is synonymous with a famous shipwreck. There may never be a more appropriate sendoff for this game than “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic).” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” must have been outside her range.
Perhaps the only advantage to a 735-day conference losing streak is that plenty of premium seats are still available. Brad had scored passes granting field and locker room access before the game. Dale, Craig, Chris, and I were fortunate to procure tickets for one of the new north end zone luxury suites. Announced attendance was 52,256, but less than half that gathered in the stands as the marching band formed the famous A for the players to run through. The student section was virtually unpopulated, despite the homecoming celebration.
“They must be in their dorms studying,” I explained to Chris. It may have been the last time we laughed all afternoon.
Tusk to Tail prides ourselves on attending every game, home and away. Our group’s 20-year streak was virtually unbroken until last week at Alabama, when Mark was our lone representative. However, a drubbing like the one administered by Mississippi State tends to clear the bleachers before the final whistle. The game is always on television at our tailgate across the street. Why stay for the slaughter, when another helping of food and drink is that close and convenient?
Sitting in the suite offered an alternate source of booze and other nutrients. By the grace of God and the liquor distributor, we were still in the box when KJ Jefferson took the field. Many had already left. It was around that time, I offered a plate of pretzel bites and cheese sauce to Dale.
“They are soft and a little bit salty,” I told him. “Just like our defense.”
Craig went to the restroom during a timeout, only to see that the Bulldogs had completely flipped the field from one goal line to the other in just a couple of plays while he was gone. He thought perhaps it was a new quarter. Nope, our defense was just playing that poorly.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis may not have a full arsenal of SEC quality defenders at his disposal, but he hasn’t done enough to earn his $1.5 million salary, either. Unlike the younger assistants, the man they call Chief is not required to travel for recruiting. On his Sunday Buzz program, Bill Vickery has compared Chavis to a country singer near the end of his career. He played the big halls of Tennessee, LSU, and even Texas A&M during his glory days, but the Razorbacks get him once he had to sit down to perform.
Many people feel Coach Chad Morris is coaching for his job, but he sure didn’t act like it Saturday. How could he defend repeatedly sending quarterback Ben Hicks back to the field after throwing for exactly zero yards in the first quarter?
Before the season, fans hoped to see a winning season. If not that, at least show marked improvement from last year’s 2-10 effort. At the very least, we wanted a glimpse of the future by showcasing some of the heralded new players. Morris has been unwilling or unable to provide any of that.
Most Arkansas sports eras end at rock bottom, or else they probably wouldn’t end. Quarterback Nick Starkel was benched for launching arm punts into the hands of waiting defenders. Hicks hasn’t fared much better. Many Arkansas spectators booed when his interception was returned for a Bulldog touchdown. The graduate transfer has no more eligibility following this season, so there is little reason to continue working on his development.
John Stephen Jones, the Spark from Highland Park, has been a solid contributor in the brief opportunities he’s been given the past two weeks. But the loudest cheers of the day came once freshman KJ Jefferson took the field for the first time. The Hogs trailed 48-17.
Four plays and 75 yards later, Jefferson rushed for a touchdown, high stepping through the endzone. Four more of those, and the Razorbacks would have been right back in this thing. Alas, time expired with a final score of 54-24. Surely Morris regrets not playing the gifted signal caller earlier.
“I don’t have any regrets of not playing him early in the season,” said Morris in his postgame press conference.
TTT has been critical of coaches and the administration in the past. We may even gripe about a player. That’s because we are consumers of Arkansas football. If the product we are paying for does not meet expectations, we do what anyone else does these days: get on the internet and complain. Our emotional honesty typically sets us apart from the actual media who rely on the university for access to players and coaches.
However, there has started to be a shift in the mainstream. Last week I referenced negative tweets by Clay Travis and Randy Rainwater. The list continues to grow. KATV’s Steve Sullivan is known as one of the nicest guys in the business, but even his reports have grown dark.
However nothing tops the latest post by Trey Biddy. Exiting the stadium following a full day covering the ritual sacrifice of the Hogs, he called the game a “54-point allowing, 640-yard surrendering, 24-point scoring, 285-yard producing, 2-of-12 third down converting, 19:51 possessing, wrong QB starting, 3-time fumbling, pick six throwing, blowout loss to the 2nd worst team in the SEC here in beautiful Donald W. Reynolds Razorback stadium.”
How do you overcome that? Morris better find a way, or else he risks joining Jack Crowe as coaches to be fired before the season’s end.
On to Western Kentucky.
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.