Tusk to Tail: Went to Tuscaloosa. Returned with our teeth intact.
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This Bama game just felt different, at least for Tusk to Tail. I’m sure part of it was the acute case of FOMO we started feeling late in the 4th quarter. Fear of Missing Out rarely applies to vagabonds like us, because frankly, we don’t miss out on very much.
But Saturday was one of the very few times this century that none of the guys had boots on the ground at a Razorback football game. Dale’s wife Kara, who calls ‘em as loud as anyone, took a last-minute trip to T-town to be our lone representative in the stands. It would serve the rest of us right if we missed an epic upset 15 years in the making.
We were watching the game on TV just like everyone, and I mean everyone else. It has been years, if not decades since Arkansas last achieved this level of “Stop everything! The Hogs are on!” Whenever Arkansas is finally able to stun the nation and Alabama, generations of Hog fans will remember tuning in like it was the first lunar landing.
The entire state screeched to a halt before the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. Errands were completed early or abandoned for another day. Leaf blowers and lawnmowers became eerily silent after buzzing from every direction all morning. Sports bars and restaurants were filled to capacity. Some attended watch parties, while others watched at home with family. Only the most dedicated hunters went back to their blinds Saturday afternoon, and they still ended up watching the game on their phones.
Early in the 2nd quarter with the Razorbacks trailing 10-0, I watched KJ Jefferson’s 32-yard pass to Treylon Burks on the kitchen television before rejoining my wife in our family room. The next play was an 8-yard loss and fumble by Burks. My wife pointed out that the Hogs played much better while I was in the kitchen, and suggested I return. Luckily Arkansas recovered and Burks caught a 15-yard touchdown to cap off the 96-yard drive. I was safe on my couch, for now.
One thing that seemed incredibly familiar about the Bama game was more horrible officiating, biased against Arkansas. Maybe every losing team says that, but even CBS color commentator and famed Alabama shill Gary Danielson was astounded by how badly the refs influenced the game. Holding or pass interference by the Tide was routinely ignored, and intentional grounding was interpreted so literally against Jefferson that nearly every incompletion could qualify.
The officials tried to take away what appeared to be back-to-back Arkansas touchdowns to make the score 17-14. First they ruled Warren Thompson’s 40-yard reception was down at the 1-yard line, despite video evidence that the ball crossed the goal line before he was down. The refs once again claimed the runner was down when Dominique Johnson stood upright in the end zone on the next play. That decision was overturned after review, but a similarly controversial Alabama touchdown catch by Williams was confirmed in the 4th quarter, putting the Tide ahead 42-28 with just over five minutes to play. CBS studio rules analyst Gene Steratore chuckled and chided the officials along with the announcers during the countless replays.
“Imagine going into a game knowing you’re going to get screwed and still being surprised at how blatantly you get screwed,” our friend Turnt Wooldridge tweeted.
I won’t say that the refs caused Arkansas to lose at Alabama this weekend like they did when the Hogs last visited the state against Auburn last year. But their job is to keep the game fair, and they regularly do the complete opposite at the expense of underdogs like the Razorbacks. It’s hard enough to beat the defending champ without the officials interfering.
Ironically, Reid Bauer’s 4th quarter touchdown pass to Blake Kern on a fake field goal attempt was made possible because an official (legally) got in the way of an Alabama defender. Call it luck or even #karma, but Arkansas had made it a one-score ballgame, 28-34. Sitting on my couch, that was peak FOMO.
Of course the upset of the second ranked Crimson Tide was not meant to be. As proud as we have been of our overachieving Hogs all season, Bama’s dudes just seem to have an extra gear. Tide receivers John Metchie and Jameson Williams frequently left Arkansas defenders flat footed, looking lost. Bama QB and Heisman favorite Bryce Young had a career day against the Razorbacks. Young threw for a school record 559 yards and 5 touchdowns to punch the Tide’s ticket to the SEC Championship game. Whether or not Young wins the prestigious Heisman, you can expect to see plenty of those white Arkansas uniforms throughout his season highlight reel.
Alabama improved to 22-8 in the series, and has a 15-game winning streak over the Hogs. The Tide had beaten the Razorbacks by a combined margin of 100-10 the previous two years. Eight of the last nine Bama games had been decided by two or more scores. Our group finally had enough, and stopped buying tickets to Tuscaloosa.
Yet Saturday’s 42-35 loss at Alabama came down to an onside kick with just over a minute to play. The Hogs’ 35 points Saturday were the most against the Tide since 2007. There might not have been an upset in Tuscaloosa Saturday, but Arkansas fans can’t be too upset. That rare feeling of Arkansas pride is what sets this Bama game apart from so many that came before it.
“It’d be hard to look at the Arkansas Razorbacks and not be proud of the effort and the resiliency and the physicality,” coach Sam Pittman said after the game. He told his team, “the days of getting kicked around and getting our teeth kicked in are over. We proved that at least for this week.”
Heading into Thanksgiving week, TTT is feeling grateful. As Hog fans, we absolutely love what Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek is putting together on The Hill. Every program continues to excel. Most recently, the Razorbacks soccer team beat Notre Dame 3-2 to advance to their first ever Elite Eight.
Every Arkansas coach seems to want to be here and supports one another. Coach Eric Musselman even took a break from his 16th ranked basketball squad to call the Hogs in T-town. That sense of unity sets the Razorbacks apart from high profile programs like LSU and Florida, now in disarray as they seek to replace their football coaches once again. Some of the candidates linked to Arkansas before Pittman was hired are flailing in their positions or rumored to be on the move again.
It is a welcome change to be on the other side of that turmoil. We have experienced just about every stage of grief over the years, and bottomed out in apathy when we skipped this Bama game. But Hunter’s Razorbacks’ redemption is the feel good story we all needed. Have no fear, Tusk to Tail will not be missing out any more.
Editor’s note: Now in its 10th 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.