Tusk to Tail: The ridiculous, redundant and ridiculous
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Barry Lunney’s first game as interim head coach of the Razorbacks was reminiscent of all the other whoopings the Hogs endured this season, yet somehow completely different. The penultimate game of 2019 blended the redundant and the ridiculous.
The familiar moments featured a greatest hits package of issues that defined the Chad Morris era, eventually leading to his early dismissal just 22 games in. Let’s start with uncertainty at the quarterback position. In his final game, a 45-19 revenge killing by former Arkansas QB Ty Storey and Western Kentucky, Morris started John Stephen Jones before switching to KJ Jefferson. Jones was the sixth different starter at the position in Morris’ short tenure, and third this year. Jefferson was the seventh signal caller to play.
Not to be outdone, Lunney listed both Jones and Jefferson as potential starters, along with Nick Starkel, who had been shelved since throwing interceptions like a human Jugs machine down at Tuscaloosa.
“Will Lunney choose to give KJ Jefferson his first start, or will he opt for free Cowboys season tickets for life,” we tweeted, a joking reference to Jones being Jerry Junior Jr. in the Dallas pro franchise family hierarchy.
Lunney called by going with Jefferson as this season’s fourth starting quarterback, then raised by inserting Jack Lindsey as number five in 11 games. Lindsey responded with two quick touchdown drives, the only time the Hogs crossed the goal line all night. Jefferson had directed two first half field goal drives to keep the Hogs hanging on, down 7-6. A third quarter Jefferson drive led to a missed field goal by Connor Limpert, when Arkansas trailed 28-6.
The Tigers kept adding touchdowns, and we kept switching quarterbacks. Starkel got a shot before Lindsey, and about the nicest thing I can say about the graduate transfer we once anointed “Starkansas” is that he didn’t throw any picks this week. Just give the man his Justin Bieber shirt back. I think we have proven that wasn’t his problem.
Despite the hype surrounding athletic Jefferson’s first start, it was Lindsey who stole the spotlight. His sole function to date had been to hold the ball for Limpert on field goals and PATs.
“As God as my witness, I didn’t know Jack Lindsey was a quarterback,” said Chris, pulling racks of ribs from his smoker.
When one of our friends asked if Lindsey was the grandson of Razorback real estate mogul Jim, Forrest reminded us that Jones isn’t the only Arkansas heir.
“Yes. QB1 and your future landlord,” he replied.
I’m sure there were several reasons for Lunney to play Lindsey besides thinking, “Pffft! What are they going to do, fire me?” The Hogs were getting curbstomped by the #1 team in the country. Playing a handful of walk ons, such as receiver John David White, wasn’t going to affect the outcome.
Their effort often exceeded their higher rated counterparts, prompting former Arkansas safety De’Andre Coley to tweet that’s “what happens when you recruit stars over heart” before later deleting the post. It wasn’t until after the game that I realized that the unknowns are all from Arkansas, where Lunney has always called home.
Player’s lack of effort or ability plagued the Morris era, and didn’t magically cure itself during the two weeks since Lunney took the reins. It may have gotten worse. Under Coordinator John Chavis, the defense as a whole has never seemed very interested in tackling, and we saw that again despite defensive backs Kamren Curl and Joe Foucha playing their hearts out alongside linebacker Scoota Harris and others.
What was surprising and incredibly frustrating was seeing zero field awareness or toughness from fan favorites Jefferson and receiver Treylon Burks. Multiple opportunities to convert third downs failed due to an early slide or exit out of bounds. Jefferson had lowered his shoulder and trucked defenders in his other two outings. Playing it safe caused some experts to speculate if Jefferson may be considering a transfer.
All the caution in the world can’t protect you behind the Razorbacks’ offensive line, as Jefferson found out early and often. The young man took some hard shots. When Starkel came in, it was announced that Jefferson was being escorted to the locker room. I heard someone quip that he wanted to shower before entering the transfer portal. I pondered if Jefferson might think the portal could instantaneously transport a player to the new school, like on Star Trek.
It’s never ideal to be embarrassed on primetime TV, but nobody in their right mind expected better than the backdoor cover of the 44-point spread that the 56-20 final score provided.Tigers coach Ed Orgeron had no shame pouring brackish Louisiana water over the wounds of Arkansas football.
“There wasn’t going to be celebration for beating Arkansas. They haven’t beaten anyone in a long time,” growled the Cajun cookie monster while eating a corn dog, stick and all, probably.
Arkansas Athletic DIrector Hunter Yurachek is charged with pulling the Hogs out of this mess, and Tusk to Tail has faith he will do it. Outside of football, Razorbacks sports are collectively stronger than ever. Yuri hired basketball coach Eric Musselman, who surpassed Morris’ win total at Arkansas (4) in his first five games. Hunter’s other hire was gymnastics coach Jordyn Wieber, who has absolutely crushed recruiting. The Hogs’ AD has also put together affordable, creative ticket packages in an attempt to lure fans off of their couch.
Meanwhile the women’s cross country team brought home another championship Saturday morning. Soccer’s best regular season ever ended in an NCAA tournament second round heartbreaker last week. Similarly, softball keeps reaching new heights while women’s basketball remains ranked and looking good. Following the recent early signing period, Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs snared the country’s 3rd best recruiting class. The men’s basketball class is already ranked 8th nationally, with several prominent recruits left to commit.
Finding the right football coach, the fifth since we started telling our story just eight years ago, isn’t going to be easy. Rumors suggest that coveted coaches from Memphis to Minnesota have already spurned Arkansas’ advances. I previously posited that many candidates feature ironclad accomplishments, but also feet of clay. Whoever is chosen walks into a situation that will take years to improve.
Who does that, given the historical itchy trigger finger of the Arkansas Board of Trustees? With all due respect to Groucho Marx, I would refuse to hire any coach who would have us.
On to Missouri, and what was formerly known as the War Memorial golf course. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.
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.