Tusk to Tail: The day Kyle passed through Arkansas to pick up his Heisman

This may sound like loser talk, but it was a bad week of college football from Tusk to Tail’s perspective. Like nearly everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was to blame.

Beloved Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, and was forced to quarantine away from his staff and players. Pittman was not allowed to lead his team against Florida as the Razorbacks looked for their first ever win in Gainesville.

Before long, positive COVID tests had wiped out the majority of the SEC schedule and other top-ranked matchups. The little virus with the long name took down games that featured #1 Alabama, #3 Ohio State, #5 Texas A&M, #12 Georgia, #15 Coastal Carolina, and #24 Auburn, among others. Based on that strength of schedule alone, you have to consider COVID a favorite in the playoffs.

It hurts to see Auburn ranked 24th with the same 4-2 record that Arkansas would have if their recovery of a Tigers fumble was ruled correctly. Such is life as a Hog fan.

Getting jobbed by the refs is one of the few normal things to occur amidst the surreal sports landscape provided by the pandemic. Seeing Coastal Carolina ranked in the Top 20 may seem bizarre, but the undefeated Chanticleers have earned it. I don’t think anyone could have ever predicted ESPN’s College Football Gameday broadcasting live from the Masters at Augusta in November, though.

Of course the Razorbacks were not scheduled to play Florida this season before the pandemic. Games against the Gators and Georgia Bulldogs, both ranked in the Top 10, were given to Arkansas once the SEC implemented a 10-game conference only schedule. Meanwhile Alabama, LSU, and Auburn picked up the likes of Missouri, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. As I said at the time, “Pittman and the Hogs got screwed by this year’s schedule maker in ways that you can typically only see on the internet.”

Full disclosure: I’m not upset that Arkansas had to play at Florida. I’m just upset I couldn’t go. The last time Arkansas played at Florida was in 2012, and Tusk to Tail was there for it. Led by interim coach John L. Smith, Arkansas football was sliding into a ditch alongside Bobby Petrino’s infamous Harley Davidson. TTT continued fiddling while the football program burned.
About a dozen of our friends and family members trekked to Gainesville where we ate at restaurants and drank at bars before losing to the mediocre Gators squad that year. Florida’s co-eds practically looked like an issue of Playboy’s “Girls of the SEC” sprung to life. Requiring those gals to put on masks might almost double the amount of fabric they seem to wear.

Every stadium has drastically reduced seating due to the pandemic, essentially eliminating most visitors’ tickets. Other COVID restrictions affect restaurants and travel. So our intrepid group of tailgaters was not able to visit The Swamp sports bar before walking to the stadium known as The Swamp this time. In 2020, these little piggies stayed home.

TTT remains in touch throughout the game by a group text thread. There is no better barometer to gauge sports fans’ emotions. Take, for instance, the following flurry of messages sent between 7:08 and 7:10 Saturday night.

The last four texts were sent following Trelon Smith’s 83-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The lone expletive punctuated another special teams gaffe. Arkansas specialists were penalized on three consecutive kickoffs. The first flag thrown for kicking out of bounds, followed by two holding calls on our return team.

Conventional wisdom says that the Hogs lack the depth and talent to field competitive special teams. Our best athletes play offense or defense, leaving little time to practice with the specialists. Regardless, it requires a near-perfect game for the Razorbacks to beat a talented team like Florida. Squandering yards and points on special teams is not a blueprint for success.

There are many reasons to dislike Florida, including their obnoxious Gator Chomp and a seemingly neverending supply of elite quarterbacks and receivers. As our friend Turnt Wooldridge tweeted, “The Florida Gators are a really, really good football team, but I don’t respect them because they’re still the Florida Gators.”

The primary storyline heading into the game was transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks’ return to Florida, where he spent the past four seasons. Franks dislocated his ankle last year to end his Gators career, opening the door for quarterback Kyle Trask. By the end of the game, most stories focused on Trask’s dominance.

Trask is in video game mode. He threw six touchdown passes Saturday, and has an SEC record 28 TDs through six games this year. Many of Trask’s passes look effortless as his receivers nonchalantly rack up yards. A long third down pass was deflected twice before landing in his receiver’s hands downfield. A dropped fleaflicker exchange preceded Trask
calmly throwing another 43-yard completion. Our defensive backs looked like they had just discovered the forward pass for at least a third of his touchdown passes.

The Gators’ quarterback drew the type of praise generally reserved for the likes of Tim Tebow or Patrick Mahomes. It got so bad that I switched to another game on another channel, but the announcers were slobbering over Kyle Trask there, too. The general consensus is that the senior signal caller has played his way into Heisman consideration, and could be on pace to win the coveted award.

Perhaps trying to pad his star quarterback’s stats, Florida Coach Dan Mullen continued calling trick plays and long passes after the game was well in hand.

“Mullen was sleazy at Mississippi State, and he’s still sleazy here,” proclaimed my wife. She is not a Florida fan.

You want to see coaches like Mullen have their asses kicked every now and then, but only a few can deliver. Yet. Get your licks in now, because Arkansas football is going to continue getting better under Coach Sam Pittman.

Similar to the Razorbacks’ loss at Texas A&M, the more talented team prevailed at Florida. The Gators overwhelmed the Hogs 63-35, but at no point did Arkansas give up. That is refreshing to a group that saw the Hogs get run off the field by less heralded teams like North Texas and Western Kentucky over the past couple of seasons.

Greg texted the gang that it was hard not to love these Hogs under Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who filled in as Head Hog in the absence of Pittman. Mark summed up what all of TTT has been feeling this season. “I love the Hogs regardless. Pittman just makes it all easier.”

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.

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