Tusk to Tail: Saturdays are best when they turn on the ‘damn jukebox’
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Heading into Saturday’s tilt against Ole Miss, Tusk to Tail was unsure how the Hogs were going to keep up with the Rebels’ offensive firepower. Ole Miss had scored 48 points against Alabama in a losing effort the previous week, and had similar outputs against Florida and Kentucky.
Rebels quarterback Matt Corral was leading the nation, passing for 407 yards per game. Corral had only thrown one interception so far this season. To complicate matters, Arkansas was missing two key defensive players. Linebacker Bumper Pool and defensive back Montaric “Buster” Brown, both juniors, were both out of the lineup.
Things looked bleak as the Hogs opened the game with a short three play drive before punting to the Mississippi 40-yard line. The Rebels quickly marched down the field to face 1st and goal on the 4 yard line.
This type of domination by the opposition has been far too common the past few years. It felt like we had seen this movie before. The 16,500 fans who were allowed to attend Saturday’s game due to COVID-19 restrictions is about the size of the crowds who stayed for the second half of various Razorback routs the past couple of seasons.
But something is different this year, and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. In a time when the rest of the SEC is being grilled for poor defensive performance, Arkansas is coming up aces. The Hogs recovered a botched 4th down handoff by Corral, denying Ole Miss the chance to score. It would not be the Rebels’ last turnover. It would not be the Hogs’ final goal line stand.
Arkansas drove the length of the field, powered by senior running back Rakeem Boyd and sophomore receiver Treylon Burks, who both missed last week’s Auburn loss due to injury. Burks hauled in a 55-yard reception to set up the Razorbacks on the Ole Miss 13. Boyd converted a 4th down near the goal line before punching in the game’s first touchdown. The drive had been extended by a roughing the kicker penalty against the Rebels, suggesting that maybe the officials are not always against the Hogs.
Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.
The Razorbacks’ D continued to dominate, scoring 24 points off of Ole Miss turnovers. Not content with his previous red zone fumble recovery, redshirt freshman defensive back Jalen Catalon returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. Linebacker Grant Morgan added his own Pick 6 to seal the victory late in the game. Morgan also led the team with 19 tackles, including a sack and three tackles for loss. His performance earned Morgan the Crip Hall award for most outstanding senior in the homecoming game.
Though Morgan began his Razorback career as a walk-on, nobody should be surprised by his gritty effort. The Greenwood native is as tough as they come, just like his brother, former Razorback receiver Drew Morgan. What I never saw coming was the performance of redshirt freshman defensive back Hudson Clark, playing in place of the injured Brown. Few people had even heard his name before Saturday, when he picked off three of Corral’s staggering six interceptions.
“Well, they’ve heard of him now,” drawled coach Sam Pittman in his post game interview before breaking into a sly grin. “At least three times.”
The small crowd roared as the clock wound down with the Razorbacks in victory formation. It was the Hogs’ first SEC win at home since beating Florida in 2016.
“Do the players even know what to do after a win,” Craig asked as the players meandered around the field before running to the student section to sing the Arkansas fight song.
“Turn that damn jukebox on,” Pittman orders his misfit band of wild Razorbacks in the locker room after every victory.
It is time to celebrate. Arkansas has more SEC wins in this young season than they earned the past three seasons combined. And that doesn’t even count last week’s Auburn game being stolen by the refs.
Both wins have come against coaches that Arkansas was rumored to have considered hiring before choosing Pittman. Those same rumors suggest that neither Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin nor Mississippi State coach Mike Leach wanted to come to Arkansas, making the victories that much sweeter. The game against Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz later this season could give Pittman the chance for a hat trick.
Saturday was the first game that my tailgating cohorts and I were able to attend this year, and we savored every moment. For a group that has attended nearly every game, home and away, for the past couple of decades, it felt odd to get such a late start. Tailgating on campus is prohibited due to the pandemic, so we improvised by slamming a beer in a restaurant parking lot and peeing behind their dumpster before going inside for lunch. Woo Pig!
Back on campus, our own godfather of tailgating thought he spotted some tents like the ones set up in Victory Village and The Gardens on game days. Craig moved in to investigate. It turned out to be the COVID testing triage area in front of the Health Center. There was no pre-game party to be found.
The year 2020 has been marked by protest all across America, and Saturday was no exception on The Hill. On our way to the stadium, we encountered a group protesting circumcision. I kid you not. The protestors carried signs calling the practice cruel and barbaric. A woman with a bullhorn said those who had been circumcised had been “robbed” and “came up short.”
“I was not prepared to argue on behalf of my penis today,” I told my friends as we sidestepped the picket line. I thought that had ended with the Bobby Petrino era.
It’s been a rough ride since those halcyon days when the Hogs were always in contention. I had truly forgotten what it feels like to care so much about a sports team. For the first time in years, I cheered for the Hogs until I lost my voice. Like the players, I left it all out on the field. Like the rest of TTT, I have no regrets.
“I’m really glad I came today,” Dale told Jeb as we began to leave the stadium.
Arkansas takes some positive momentum into their bye week. The future looks bright. TTT is glad Sam Pittman is coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
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.