story by Jeff Laman
Editor’s note: Welcome to the fifth season of Tusk to Tail – 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. Members of the Tusk to Tail Team are Sean Casey, Jack Clark, Dale Cullins, Greg Houser, Craig May, David Rice and Mark Wagner. Tusk to Tail is managed by Talk Business & Politics against the advice of attorneys and family. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
The Saturday setup started at 8:30 a.m., which by Dale Cullins’ standards is late. He had already bought supplies from the Walmart across the street before grabbing a space in line for the parking at Jerry World (nee AT&T Stadium). Despite this “late start,” a perfect spot for the Tusk to Tailgate was secured with a beautiful view of the stadium.
Craig and Lawson May, Sam Atkinson, Mark Wagner, David and Jackson Rice, among others helped set everything up for the rest of us.
My wife, Hope, and I picked up Chris May from the airport around noon and proceeded to join the guys. As Dale mentioned last week, we had primarily snack foods and beverages, though someone picked up a pizza or two for munching.
We could see that there had been a bit of rain. A few minutes after our arrival, there was a torrential downpour for nearly half an hour. Pools of water accumulated on the nylon roof of the tents, requiring us to push them off, lest the tents collapse. When the sun came out along with a nice breeze, it was clearly going to be a perfect afternoon. Another thunderstorm passed through before the hot Texas sun created a swampy atmosphere for the thousands of tailgaters around Jerry World.
“Somehow I got a sunburn tailgating for an indoor game in the rain,” said David Rice.
When you’re the only tailgate on the block with a TV, you end up being very popular. Unexpected visitors happened by to catch a moment or two of Ole Miss’s routing of Georgia or the Gators and Vols tilt. George Knight and Susan Craig Ramey, his girlfriend and a Razorback fan originally from Little Rock, were such a pair. Susan had a Hog hat and face stickers, but she was wearing a Texas A&M t-shirt, which brought about curiosity.
“I pull for the Hogs, but I want Trevor to play well,” she said.
George is the father of Trevor Knight, the Aggies’ graduate transfer quarterback. Later when they departed, we told them they needed to visit Fayetteville for a game and drop by the tailgate. He said Susan would make sure that happened.
Steve Sullivan and Tony Ranchino from KATV in Little Rock stopped by to interview Chris and Craig May. Video of the interview streamed on Facebook live, along with all of us calling the Hogs a couple of times. Tony left to edit while “Sully” stayed around talking to a couple of us about the team and the game.
With a couple of hours before kickoff, TTT’s Lone Wolf, Jack Clark, showed up after watching his son play ball in Little Rock that morning. Kara and Spencer Cullins and Rebecca Rice made a rare appearance at a road tailgate after some shopping in North Dallas.
Since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, it seems we’re in a Bizarro world every time we play them. For those of us who grew up with the Southwest Conference, we expect to beat the team from College Station every year. And yet, just the opposite has taken place. It is a nightmare I want to end. Unfortunately, the scion of our tailgate guest helped make it even worse.
Hog QB Austin Allen had a heck of a game. His passing (28 for 42, 342 yards, 2TDs) and great catches by about everyone except Dominique Reed helped sustain drives or score touchdowns. Unfortunately, #3’s mishandling of the ball resulted in our first turnover.
That led to Trevor Knight’s 42 yard unabated run up the middle of the field, tying the game to start the 2nd quarter. Knight is quick, but clearly Noel Mazzone, A&M’s new offensive coordinator, saw something in Robb Smith’s defense to exploit as he zipped for 48 yards and another touchdown to end the quarter (and half) the same way he began.
While our offensive line provided some protection to Austin during most passing downs, they did not supply the push we’ve come to expect the last few years on rushing downs, especially on the goal line. Once Rawleigh Williams III gashed A&M’s defense for 55 yards to set up the ball on the Aggie 2-yard line, Arkansas had an astounding series of six or seven unsuccessful goal line runs.
The play calling seemed to lack creativity.
As it became evident that this part of the gameplan was not working, I heard questioning by the fans for the first time since last season’s Toledo debacle. Fans struggled to understand the selections of plays called by Dan Enos then and at the end of the 3rd quarter. Then, the 4th down run by Keon Hatcher resulted in a 5-yard loss. Why not throw to the corner or back of the end zone a couple of plays earlier? The A&M secondary was getting burned, resorting to pushing or grabbing at the Razorback receivers all night. It did appear Austin made it across the goal line earlier, but the video replay wasn’t conclusive enough to overturn the call on the field.
After the turnover on downs, the Aggies wasted little time throwing a 92-yard touchdown to Josh Reynolds. That was the real start of the nightmare, as the Hogs’ solid play for the majority of the 3 quarters all went up in flames. The Hogs managed to score one touchdown in the game with 6:21 left, but A&M responded with another of their own in 1:24. Trevor Knight almost had another TD after a 62 yard run with 1:30 to go.
We left to finish tearing down the tailgate and packing away the gear to find it had rained again after we had entered the stadium. As one final parting shot, the automated sprinklers came on promptly at midnight. Sam got soaked folding up tables and chairs, but I didn’t ask if it washed off the feeling that game left in us.
As we departed for various hotels around the Metroplex, sports media was beginning to question if A&M could be the team to finally challenge Alabama for SEC supremacy. We shouldn’t have been surprised, as David Rice picked A&M as one of his four playoff teams just days ago.
But there are two things we know about Bret Bielema’s Arkansas teams thus far. First, the players don’t quit on him, and more importantly, the team continuously improves as the season progresses.
Tusk to Tail is looking forward to next week’s game in Little Rock and the rest of the season.