FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt sophomore safety Jalen Catalon came up big to help lead Arkansas past Rice 38-17.
Catalon intercepted two passes, had 11 tackles, six solo and one tackle for a loss. Arkansas fell behind Rice 17-7 early in the third quarter, but then the offense got to rolling and Catalon picked off two passes while Montaric Brown got one as well. Sam Pittman is never surprised at the good things Catalon does.
“Cat, you need your good players to play well, and that’s why you asked about both kids, and that’s what Cat did,” Pittman said. “He obviously had a shoulder that was beat up a little bit, but he can control that. He doesn’t have to go in there and hit a guy. So, we put him in green. He’s a ballplayer man. Great kid. He makes plays. Reads eyes well and makes plays. I tell you, I really loved the interception that Montaric Brown had because he cut that corner off. He drove on that ball. That was a heck of an interception, too.”
While the offense didn’t get going in the first half the defense picked them up as well as also some special team miscues.
“It was very important,” Catalon said. “You have to go out there and play every play. The offense started off slow but like I said, we’ve got their back. So we just played hard. We faced adversity but we got over it and adjusted the second half offensively.”
Catalon said the defense had a message for the offense and it paid off on Saturday.
“We always tell the offense, ‘It doesn’t matter what. We’ve got your back,’” Catalon said. “That’s what we kept telling them. We know you’re going to get stuff right but you can trust in us knowing we have your back. When we get that stop make them be your momentum and pull through and eventually they did and they started getting some good possessions going and started ending up with touchdowns. KJ (Jefferson) had a rough start but he came in and did his thing and showed that he can handle adversity. I know he’s the guy for sure. So nothing but positive things going forward for sure. Definitely some things to work on but we’ll get it right.”
When Rice scored with 10:28 remaining in the third quarter to make it 17-7 in year’s past the team might have basically checked out mentally. Not this team as Catalon and the Hogs scored the final 31 points. What was the sideline like when Rice took that lead?
“The coaches started laughing,” Catalon said. “Coach looked at us and said, ‘We’re fine.’ When you have that confidence in somebody and you see that you have to worry about except go out and play. Coach Pittman told us he was hoping we had some adversity with this game because the adversity was going to determine how good this team was going to be. I think we handled it really well. Yeah, down 17-7, you could start pointing fingers, a lot of teams especially that late in the game, but no one panicked. We all stuck together then we pulled through and started making big plays and before you know it we changed the game around.”
Catalon had two interceptions in the second half. He talked about them and how they happened.
“I was in the middle and the ball was thrown and I saw Markell Utsey and he tipped it,” Catalon said. “Coach always says tip on overthrows you’ve got to have them. I came up and made a play. I was on the sideline for the first one. I don’t know, things were just happening. I was jumping and I didn’t know what I was going on. I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid. I credit Utsey too for getting his hands up. On the second one I was playing the middle and quarterback didn’t see me. I came up and made a play. Wish I had scored, but we’re not going to speak on that.”
Arkansas lost two linebackers due to the targeting calls. Grant Morgan was early in the game and Bumper Pool came in the second half meaning he will miss the first half of Texas game. Hayden Henry had to sit out the first half on Saturday due a targeting call he got against Alabama last season. Catalon, who has been hit with that call numerous times in the past as well laughed when asked about how tough it is to play defense with that call?
“I would know about it,” Catalon said with a wide smile. “But I mean it’s definitely a tough break. Like I said I know Grant didn’t mean to do that. But you’ve just got to deal with what it is and move on. Bumper was just playing football and the refs thought it was targeting. You can’t do nothing, but just take it as it is and move on. But I know they will be ready to go. I know Bump has to sit out the first half, but we’ll have Grant back. I trust Hayden. Our linebackers played today and I think we’re flexible enough to do whatever and be just fine.”
Junior Andrew Parker filled in for Morgan in the first half and then for Pool in the second after he was ejected. Parker finished with four tackles, a pair of solo, and two quarterback hurries.
“Andrew stepped up really good,” Catalon said. “I’ve always told him that your number is coming and when it comes make sure you are ready. Because you never know what is going to happen. It’s tough to lose someone like Grant Morgan that early in the game, but I have trust in Andrew. He didn’t flinch one bit. He just showed you we have depth back there. He can come and fill in if something happens to Grant. I was just proud of him and how he played.”
The attendance was 64,065 fans and that pleased Catalon.
“The fans were rocking today,” Catalon said. “They stuck behind us. We got off to a rough start, but they never flinched. They stayed behind us and gave that juice we need to keep going. So I credit them. Because they made it hard for the [Rice] offense to hear things at times. So hats off to our fans, and much love to them.”
Catalon chose Arkansas over Texas and others in the recruiting wars. The Longhorns are next on Arkansas’ schedule.
“Like Coach said, it’s going to be a full game,” Catalon said. “We’ve got to play a full game as an offense, as a defense. So we’ve got to be ready for that. We’re going to enjoy this one. You’ve always got to enjoy your wins. But at the same time, you’ve always got to after today put it behind you and prepare for Texas.
“It’s going to be a big game. Texas is a great team, and I believe we’re a great team just like them. So it’s going to be a physical game and we’ve just got to fix our mistakes from this game, learn from it, and just make sure everybody gets healthy and ready to go when the time comes.”
Does playing Texas have any special meaning to you since you are from Mansfield (Texas) Legacy?
“For sure,” Catalon said. “They were involved in my recruiting. But I chose this place because it felt like home to me, the atmosphere. So I have no regrets whatsoever. Today just shows that. The love the fans show, and the environment you to play in. I mean, you can’t ask for nothing better. I’m proud to be a Hog. I’ll always be proud to be a Hog, no matter what.”
Arkansas and Texas will meet at 6 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium next Saturday.