If you have been around as long as Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, it is probably bound to happen. That didn’t make the realization any less awkward. The old grey lady on Markham threw a party Thursday that nobody really wanted to attend.
The first to drop by was that uninvited guest from Houston, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm, then rather appropriately, a tropical depression over Little Rock. Despite his obnoxious reputation, Harvey behaved fairly well for the most part, circling back a few times before finally blowing eastward.
We got lucky with the weather. With the season opener falling on the last day of August in Little Rock, it was originally assumed to be a scorcher. Once Harvey began tracking toward the Natural State, we were warned that at least six inches of rain could fall on game day. Clear skies and temps in the 70s was a pleasant surprise for kickoff.
The threatening weather may have kept some folks at home. The timing of the game certainly didn’t help.
When the ESPN family of networks first presented college football on Thursday night a couple of decades ago, it was touted as “good exposure for the program.” It may be hard to see this match-up as anything but filler for ESPN’s fledgling SEC Network, a warm-up act for the big time opening weekend match-ups. But airing the game gives Arkansas fans the option to stay home, which many chose to do.
And Florida A&M. Bless their Rattler hearts.
Roughly 100 hours after their FCS schedule began the previous Saturday in Tallahassee, A&M literally went old school, heading to see Rock City by bus. While the Rattlers’ $750,000 payday for playing the Hogs will go a long way toward covering their $5 million total athletic budget, I presume the only thing worse than getting whooped 49-7 would be to have that whooping sandwiched between over 20 hours in a bus.
It sure seems like Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long wants to leave the Little Rock party early. Nearly every guest of our day-long tailgate asked if this would be the last game at War Memorial, despite the contract including a game in 2018. Following the game’s conclusion, Long reiterated his intent to honor that contract, drawing a sigh of relief from those of us who feared Thursday’s light attendance may be used to justify an early buyout.
It may not have appeared that Tusk to Tail really wanted to be at the Florida A&M game either, based on our usual standards. Our War Memorial tailgates are generally erected before sunrise and overflowing by mid-day. Tablecloths and decorative center pieces usually add atmosphere to our long buffet of exquisite food, while drinks are mixed at our Razorbacks themed bar.
Thursday saw none of that.
We hosted a smaller crowd than usual, especially once our television shorted out in the rain before the game. Thursday’s tailgate was less of a social function than a place to grab a bite and stay dry before the game.
Due to the rain and mud, anything taken to the golf course would have to be washed and dried at the end of the night, so we only took the essentials. Under our tent, we had some bare plastic tables, a few chairs, and a couple of coolers filled with Lost Forty beer. Dale Cullins’ famous cheese dip preceded Jamey Johnson’s smoked pork butts and the standard barbecue sides of beans and slaw.
The weather cleared before game time, but still little has been revealed about the Hogs. New names and faces are spread across the roster, most notably in the offensive backfield and receivers. Bielema reported that 27 players made their FBS college debut, including eight true freshmen.
Freshman running back Chase Hayden effectively kick started the running game along with Devwah Whaley and graduate transfer David Williams. The trio scored four touchdowns and racked up a large share of the team’s 236 rushing yards. Deon Stewart and tight end Cheyenne O’Grady each caught a TD, and linebacker Henre Toliver scooped and scored on a fumble recovery for the defense.
Defensively, the Hogs seemed a bit quicker, frequently swarming the ball and keeping the Rattlers backed up on their end of the field. Randy Ramsey looks like a natural at one of the outside linebacker spots, giving the Rattlers all they could handle.mThe pectoral Injury to cornerback Ryan Pulley will have an impact, as it pushes freshman Kamren Curl to start with little meaningful experience.
The offensive line still appears to be a work in progress. Freshman Ty Clary, who has not earned a scholarship this season, started at right guard. He performed well, considering the circumstances, but the line as a whole still struggles in pass protection. Quarterback Austin Allen was sacked, knocked down, and hurried into an early interception by an FCS defense that should have been grossly outmanned.
There is little more to do with this game than to turn the page. The Razorbacks are 1-0, and look better at running the ball and stopping the other team’s run than they did last year. There will be at least one more game in Little Rock next season, and It is starting to feel like football weather.
Onward to Fayetteville.
Editor’s note: Welcome to the sixth 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