HawgBeat - How the Hogs plan to address targeting fouls
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How the Hogs plan to address targeting fouls

Sam Pittman speaks to officials during Arkansas' win over Rice.
Sam Pittman speaks to officials during Arkansas' win over Rice. (Nick Wenger)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas lost both of its starting linebackers because of targeting ejections in its season-opening win over Rice.

All-American super senior Grant Morgan was tossed on the Owls’ second drive of the game, while All-SEC senior Bumper Pool picked up his midway through the fourth quarter.

Those were the fourth and fifth targeting penalties committed by the Razorbacks during head coach Sam Pittman’s 11-game tenure. They’ve actually had one in three straight halves of football, with Hayden Henry getting flagged for it in the second half of last season’s finale against Alabama.

Jalen Catalon was charged with the other two targeting penalties, getting them against Texas A&M and LSU last season. With it happening so frequently, Pittman said he’s discussed ways to avoid it when defensive coordinator Barry Odom and linebackers coach Michael Scherer.

“We’re going to change our target down a little lower, our tackling target,” Pittman said. “Barry and I talked about it, and Mike talked about it. We have to. The bottom line is right now if you get a physical tackle they’re going to review it. … You’ve just got to make sure that that head gear is out of there.”

Although an argument could be made that Catalon’s last year were questionable, both Morgan and Pool appeared to drop their heads and lead with the crown of their helmet. Contact to the offensive player’s head isn’t necessarily required to draw a flag.

Not only does targeting come with a 15-yard penalty, but the offending player is ejected from the rest of the game. If it happens after halftime - like Pool’s - the player is also suspended from the first half of the next game. It is a “very harsh” punishment, Pittman said.

“The penalty for targeting, I understand it, it’s just harsh,” Pittman said. “I understand what the rule was put in for and all those things, but it’s hard, especially when the running back’s running and he’s dropping his head or the wide receiver.”

Luckily for the Razorbacks, Morgan will be back for the entirety of the Texas game, but they’ll be without Pool for the first half. Henry, who missed the first half against Rice because of his penalty in the Alabama game, is expected to start in his place, so Pittman said Arkansas will “be fine.”

The loss of Pool is a significant one, though. A four-star recruit coming out of Lovejoy High in Texas, he notched a team-high 14 tackles - including 1.5 for loss - against Rice before his ejection and is closing in on 300 career tackles, a mark only 17 other players have reached in UA history.

“Bump’s a good player for us and he’s a good leader and he’s from the state of Texas,” Pittman said. “I’m sure he’s very disappointed he’s not going to be able to play in the first half, but the same thing happened with Hayden last week.”

Pittman said redshirt freshman walk-on Jackson Woodard and true freshman Chris Paul Jr. will get ready to play this week in case they’re needed, but if something happens to Morgan or Henry - or they need a break - in the first half, the first player off the bench will probably be Andrew Parker.

The redshirt junior from New Orleans filled in admirably against the Owls, finishing with four tackles and two quarterback hurries on a career-high 42 defensive snaps.

“He came in and did a fine job,” Pittman said. “He was ready. You have to give him credit for being mature, working hard and making some nice open field tackles. He did a nice job. I was proud of him.”

Last season, Parker played sparingly as a backup. Pittman said he was frustrating with his playing time, but instead of entering the transfer portal, he stuck it out and got better over the offseason.

It showed in the first game of 2021, as he played more confident and there was much less of a drop off with Morgan out of the game than there was in the Missouri and Alabama games last season.

“He's reading guards, reading his triangle through, playing physical,” Pittman said. “If you saw him play last year, to me it was like he was almost questioning everything. Almost like a freshman where I don't know if this is what I'm supposed to do and I'm a half step behind. He didn't play that way the other day.”

Kickoff against the Longhorns is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Saturday in Fayetteville. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.