By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ secondary bent but never broke on a day they helped the Razorbacks defeat South Carolina 44-30.
The No. 16 Hogs allowed 416 yards of total offense with all but 40 of that coming through the air. Sam Pittman confirmed after the game what was already known, but made it official redshirt junior safety Jalen Catalon is out for the season. Junior Myles Slusher also was injured against Cincinnati in the opener, but he’s expected back for Missouri State Pittman said.
The Hogs started Hudson Clark, Dwight McGlothern, Khari Johnson, Latavious Brini and Simeon Blair in the secondary. Safety Jayden Johnson and others saw extensive action as well. Pittman talked about how he felt the secondary played.
“Well, I think sometimes really good and sometimes not really good,” Pittman said. “You’d have to ask Barry Odom. But to me, we covered well at times and we covered poorly at times. We just have to become more consistent. I think we can do that. But with the first week of losing two of your top defenders and coming out with a win like that and fighting and scrapping, I thought it was good. They played Arkansas football. Do we have to get better? Yeah. Do we need to get Slusher back? Yes. There’s a lot of things going on but I thought they played well for their first time.”
For the second week in a row, McGlothern had a very big interception. That caught Pittman’s attention.
“He fought for the ball,” Pittman said. “He came back for the ball in the end zone. It seemed like they reviewed everything today. I think they reviewed that one too. But he came back for the ball and high-pointed it. It was really a good interception. That’s two for two, two games, two picks. You saw that on tape from last year as well.”
Brini, a talented transfer from Georgia where he started 11 games last season suffered an injury but Pittman didn’t feel it was serious and said he was a big part of the gameplan.
“Yeah, he was,” Pittman said. “Brini, you have to look back and Brini started several games for Georgia last year. Started. So it’s kind of hard for me to go woe are we whenever we got a guy who started a lot of games for the national champions. He has to come in and play our system and play it well. Again, I’ll have to look and see. I don’t know how he played to be honest with you. But it was good from the transfer portal to have him back there.”
Blair had five tackles one day after being named a team captain to replace Catalon. Blair talked about the Gamecocks pulling to 21-16 after the Hogs had led 21-3.
“I feel like South Carolina was a great team,” Blair said. “They fought. They never gave up. I felt like we just stayed focused. We knew it was going to be a dogfight being first SEC kickoff game. And I felt like we just trusted in one another. We knew that everyone on the defensive side had everyone’s back.”
Considering it was the first game without Catalon Blair talked about how he felt the secondary did.
“I felt like it was a great game by us,” Blair said. “We always would love to have Catalon because of how talented he is. But we have a lot of players. Brini came in and stepped up, forced a fumble. He had a great game. We had Malik step in, Khari step in, and both of them have been playing corner for a long time. They came in and played safety for us today and they also did a wonderful job.
“So I feel like it was a hard game, but it also was great to see all our training paying off, after doing all the stuff in the summer and fall camp. Switching positions and moving everybody around. I feel like it definitely helped us today.”
Brini is pleased to be at Arkansas after leaving the national champions. Brini feels very good at Arkansas now.
“I appreciate all the DBs, the coaches, everybody because when I came here from Georgia it was a little rocky and they took me in with wide open arms,” Brini said. “They just showed me nothing but love, just making me I was accountable for everything I did and just making sure I can push my skills father.”
Few are happier to have Brini at Arkansas than Blair. Brini had four tackles on Saturday and forced a fumble as well a quarterback hurry.
“Brini’s a really good player,” Blair said. “He came into our system, and we do a lot of stuff. I feel like we require a lot of communication and with that communication, that means you’ve got to learn the playbook real fast. We have a lot of different stuff we do, a lot of different personnel. For him to come out there and play as well as he did, in just a short amount of time from being here in the summer, well really the spring, but it says a lot. It says he came here and really took this serious and he’s a real playmaker. He’s going to be very helpful for us this year. He’s going to make a big difference.”
Brini talked about his role now with Catalon out for the season.
“With Cat being out, the responsibility is like, I mean, when I first got here they always just made sure they kept me accountable,” Brini said. “People like Sim, Cat, so it was really no pressure. This is like practice. Let’s go. Just making sure I’m accountable for everything I do.
“On the fumble, if y’all didn’t see me out there I was jumping for joy. When I hit the ball out, I said, ‘The ball came out!’ I was running like a chicken with his head cut off. I was running.”
Oh and about the ankle?
“I feel great,” Brini said. “I’m blessed. I feel great. That’s all it is.”
Brini, Blair and the Hogs will host Missouri State at 6 p.m. Saturday night in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.