Tusk to Tail: Saturday was a fitting farewell to Fayetteville’s fall festivities

The sun shone down, a welcome complement to the crisp breeze rustling through the gold and scarlet leaves. Cardinal-clad fans arrived at tailgating tents carrying snacks to accompany crocks of chili and platters of meat pulled from smokers and portable grills.

Beverages served in red plastic cups sprung from legions of coolers to wash down the feasts. Saturday was a gorgeous fall afternoon on the University of Arkansas campus. It was almost enough to make one forget that the home team just isn’t very good.

Saturday was a fitting farewell to Fayetteville’s fall festivities. This is where we saw the Razorbacks’ last victory, a 24-3 throttling of Southern Miss back in mid-September. Arkansas has three games remaining on this year’s schedule, but won’t play at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium until almost a year after that last cakewalk. Most of Tusk to Tail expected the dreaded rebuilding year, but we had hoped to see further signs of progress than had been evident in the Hogs’ last two blowout losses to South Carolina and Alabama.

So while the Razorbacks were just a few short hours from their sixth straight loss, the most since losing seven consecutive in 1990, the Tusk to Tailgate was rollicking. Empty bottles of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Skinny Tea Vodka, and regular vodka flavored vodka were stacking up like cord wood by mid-afternoon. Some switched to beer, others bourbon, while still others drank homemade concoctions and premixed Long Island Tea. As more guests arrived, our garbage bags began to overflow with detritus from the day’s drinking.

The final home game of the season gave occasion to celebrate our first couple of tailgating, Dale and Kara Cullins. Though Tusk to Tail is a well-oiled machine comprised of many moving parts, nobody works harder at organizing and presenting our weekly parties than the Cullins. Throughout the week, the couple can be found planning, purchasing, cooking, cleaning, designing, delivering, building, or tearing down components of our traveling circus.

Tusk to Tail decided to reward their hard work and dedication with a night out on the town. Under the guise of posing for a group picture to be displayed on the stadium’s massive video screen, we called Dale and Kara down to the front of the tailgate.  There they were presented with a gift card to a local restaurant bought with money collected from our crew. They seemed genuinely surprised and flattered as a toast was made in their honor.

Our tailgate was far from the only ones having a good time. Though most fans arrived only a few hours before kickoff, joyous celebrations took place all across Victory Village and the surrounding areas. Eat, drink, and be merry, for the Hogs may get their tails kicked in a few hours.

Unfortunate circumstances and strange twists of fate put the Hogs behind the 8-ball early. Brandon Allen’s apparent touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon was ruled incomplete, then Arkansas lost Allen for a couple of possessions while he was treated for a leg injury.

Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema, in his first of many apparent attempts to out-Malzahn Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, called the coach’s legendary hurry-up offense for backup quarterback AJ Derby. Derby turned the ball over twice as fast, and Auburn capitalized on his fumble when running back Tre Mason ran for his first of four touchdowns.

The Razorbacks kicked a field goal upon Allen’s return, but immediately gave up good field position with the ensuing onside kick, recovered by Auburn. Less than two minutes later, Mason had another TD, and the Tigers led 14-3.

The scoreboard may not show it, but Tusk to Tail finally saw the effort and improvement in the Hogs we had been seeking. The offense gained yardage in big chunks and controlled the clock, and the defense generally held its ground outside of a few plays in the third quarter. Korliss Marshall’s 87-yard kickoff return is the longest by Arkansas in two years.

Unfortunately the improvement wasn’t always consistent, resulting in moments like the Razorbacks’ last drive of the first half, when Arkansas could not score from first-and-goal on Auburn’s 4-yard line. Coming up empty-handed in spots like that really hurts a team, and we can only hope the coaches and players learned from the experience.

Speaking of coaches, the Auburn-Arkansas series will remain interesting as long as Malzahn and Bielema lead their respective teams. Bielema’s willingness to experiment in the game provided mixed results, ranging from losing the onside kick to eventually scoring a touchdown following the field goal unit’s pass out of the Swinging Gate formation on fourth down.

And isn’t it ironic that one of Malzahn’s players is being accused by the national media of faking an injury to slow down the hurry-up offense following the Swinging Gate play? If you recall from last summer, Bielema claimed that tempo of play could lead to real injuries after Malzahn implied that teams faked being hurt to slow down his teams.

A recent survey conducted by Impact Management Group and provided to The City Wire revealed that as many Arkansans had no opinion of the job Bielema has done so far coaching the Razorbacks as those who approved. In this period of football reconstruction in the state, it seems unfair to judge him based on what he can do with the players recruited by former coaches. Tusk to Tail hopes Coach B gets things turned around, and can stay long enough to see the positive results. In the meantime, we will continue to eat, drink, and be merry.

Tune in next week, when the gang charters a party bus to the tailgating Mecca known as The Grove at Ole Miss.