Tusk to Tail had descended upon Jerry World by 9:15 a.m. Saturday. Holding two tickets to paradise, Lot 10 parking passes practically beneath the shadow of the football megaplex, the gang was ready get it going. As we’ve said many times, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.
The hardest working man in tailgating, Dale Cullins, efficiently packed his Sequoia with enough gear to equip a bunker for a pending zombie apocalypse. Tents, tables, and chairs needed to be erected. Banners hung, Generators fueled and cranked to run the satellite TV and crock pots. And let’s not forget the Portacool unit. If football is going to be played indoors, you might as well have an air-conditioned tailgate.
There was just one problem. NFL stadium parking lots don’t open until five hours before kickoff, or 1 p.m. in this case. The godfather Craig May seized control of Mark Wagner’s Outback – “Subaru erotic,” said Sean Casey – leading Cullins to park along the closest curb. Both vehicles were unloaded and the crew humped the gear to the shady grove adjacent to the lot, setting up operations right in front of Football Mecca. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox Tusk to Tail.
Greg Houser followed shortly behind, delivering his parents and 50 pounds of ice, a poor substitute for his standard daily CrossFit sesh. By the time Jack Clark arrived from Little Rock with his son and the boy’s friend, Cullins said, “the sweet tea vodka was flowing like Victoria Falls,” and May was wearing a black cowboy hat.
Saturday’s game is the first of three consecutive weeks Arkansas plays away from home, a stretch of travel we wincingly call the “Homewrecker.” As such, I opted to sit this one out as my only skip of the season. Houser had agreed to write this week’s field report, but traveling back to a full house after another gut-wrenching Razorbacks loss seemed like enough punishment. I offered to pitch in relief.
I kept up with the gang throughout the tailgate and game via texts and drunken phone calls, Facebook photos and tweets. The boys sent me tales from the front, while I kept them abreast of important television details, including the malicious ineptitude of the officials. When it appeared we had lost Alex Collins to injury, our missives spouted enough profanity to turn the entire stadium into a pillar of salt.
Living vicariously through the Texas tailgate, it was immediately obvious that you’d better bring your A-game. Gone are the days of a bucket of chicken and a cooler of beer on the literal tailgate of one’s truck. Hanging with the big dogs requires multiple tents adorned with more homeware than you would see on an entire night of the Home Shopping channel. Fayetteville’s tastefully named Tusk Til Dawn tent had the nicest custom-printed banner, and appeared to be having a blast. One of their Hog fans “threw the A” in a bid to unseat the Aggie’s thumbs up “Gig ‘em” sign as the most asinine thing an adult can do with his hands.
As the parking lot parties turned up, the beautiful people of Dallas arrived. Hot co-eds, recent grads, and trophy wives offered ample eye candy from both schools. Most seemed completely genuine, humble, and willing to talk to you if your father owned an oil company or sports team. Texas tailgating is not for basic bitches.
The ladies of Tusk to Tail were conspicuously absent, celebrating Whitney Key’s Las Vegas bachelorette party. About 25 members and guests ate, drank, and watched football in our little air conditioned sin den until it was time to stow the gear and go watch some football. In a week marked by Yogi Berra’s passing, this year’s A&M game was deja vu all over again. Arkansas dominated most of the game statistically, only to blow a late lead in overtime. If there are three words that have been said more about Brandon Allen than “Bless his heart,” I would sure like to hear them.
B.A. has set multiple personal records this season between-the-20s, only to choke away comeback opportunities in the red zone. The table has been set multiple times for the man to prove he’s a winner, only to find out he doesn’t have any silverware. The kid has paid his dues a thousand-fold, and nobody could ever question his commitment to the Arkansas Razorbacks. But when ESPN flashed the startling graphic saying Coach Bielema is 0-10 at Arkansas in games decided by 10 points or less, you-know-who started at quarterback for almost all of them.
And yet this loss could never be pinned just on Allen. Not that you would want to after seeing his face following the 4th-down incompletion to end the game. Beneath his facemask, heartbreak radiated in high definition color. I immediately felt sorrow for his mother, multiplied when considering Brandon’s top backup is his younger brother Austin.
Again, Allen did not cost Arkansas this game. His first dozen passes were flawless, and wide receiver Drew Morgan earned a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of overachieving white Arkansas receivers alongside Lance Alworth, Robert Farrell, and James Shibest.
Bielema-ball is predicated on running the ball (check), stopping the run (check), playing keepaway through time of possession (humongous check), and balancing the attack with well-timed high-percentage pass plays (pleasantly checked for the first 56 minutes). The defense can bend but cannot break, a clear failure exemplified by freshman Aggie receiver Christian Kirk’s 255 all-purpose yards.
Of course the tie that binds it all together is that the Hogs cannot beat themselves with penalties and turnovers (doh!). To use Wagner’s quote from Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Granted, the officials called a tight game, penalizing both teams a combined 18 times for 145 yards. Announcers Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge even said a few of the 11 infractions charged against the Razorbacks were nitpicky, if not erroneous. But Dan Skipper and Hunter Henry have been penalized for holding so often, that each has changed jersey numbers, at least in part a hare-brained scheme to hide near 7-foot monoliths from the line judge. And if left tackle Denver Kirkland is the bonafide leader of this line, how is he drawn offside by a head fake on a crucial 4th-and-3?
The key to last year’s late season success was the defense, which must become a top priority in recruiting. Coordinator Robb Smith was once the toast of the town, but is now just another bearded bum on a sideline rife with them. Our defenders never turned their heads to play the ball, if they were in the picture at all.
“We have the slowest linebackers and the worst secondary I’ve seen since this time last year,” Wagner said after shooting the game from the field.
This season isn’t what Tusk to Tail expected, yet we remain optimistic as we plan for next week’s trip to Knoxville. The things Arkansas did to lose the game can all be fixed. Mark has gone on record to predict a win, and a few of us drank enough to agree.
“As far as momentum goes, I’m really thinking our brand of football is like a semi-truck,” concluded Houser. “It takes a long time to push through all those gears, but now we are finally gaining speed, and it is great to see the line give some push.”
Your Arkansas Razorbacks, ladies and gentleman. Don’t get run over.