Notebook: Catalon tossed, big 4th down, OL shuffle, more
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Arkansas had to play the final three quarters of Saturday’s game without one of its best players.
Safety Jalen Catalon was disqualified for targeting late in the first quarter of the Razorbacks’ 42-31 loss to No. 8 Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
The penalty wasn’t called on the field, but the officials stopped play to take another look at it and the replay showed the redshirt freshman led with the crown of his helmet when trying to tackle Chase Lane.
Although targeting can sometimes be a controversial penalty, head coach Sam Pittman said it was a good call because Catalon’s head was down.
“it wasn't what I would consider a spear,” Pittman said. “It wasn't like he was doing it maliciously or trying to lead with his head. It just happened. It didn't look dangerous, but when they called it I understood why.”
On the very next play, Ainias Smith scored on a 15-yard run to give the Aggies a 14-7 advantage. They never lost that lead, as it was the second of six straight possessions with touchdowns for Texas A&M.
Catalon - whose 11.3 tackles per game ranked third in the SEC coming into the game - could remain on the sideline thanks to a rule change this offseason, but he was not permitted to play the rest of the night.
He was replaced by true freshman Myles Slusher, who had missed the last two games because of an undisclosed injury. The former four-star recruit finished with three tackles.
“I'm sure our defense missed (Catalon), but let's make no mistake now - we've had a lot of people out this year and played good defense,” Pittman said. “We missed him no doubt about it, but we can certainly play better than we did.”
Texas A&M also lost one of its safeties to targeting when backup Antonio Johnson was flagged for his hit on Hudson Henry early in the third quarter. Because his came after halftime, Johnson will also not be eligible to play in the first half of the Aggies’ game at South Carolina next week.
It didn’t end up factoring into the final result, but one of the biggest plays of the first half involved Arkansas rolling the dice on fourth down near midfield.
Trailing 21-7 and needing a score to get back into the game, the Razorbacks’ offense stayed on the field after a catch by Mike Woods set up a fourth-and-two play.
Pittman said he told offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to at least try to get the Aggies to jump offsides and survey the defense. Worst-case scenario, Arkansas could call a timeout.
Instead, realizing Texas A&M was in cover zero with no safety help over the top, the Razorbacks snapped the ball and Feleipe Franks hit Treylon Burks for a 36-yard gain.
“It was just Treylon and the safety one-on-one in the matchup,” Pittman said. “You don't have a whole lot of time to figure out if that's what you want to do or not, but I just thought with Feleipe and Treylon that we'd have a good chance of catching the ball.”
Speaking to the media afterward, Franks gave Briles a lot of credit for sticking with the call when an incomplete pass would have given Texas A&M the ball with excellent field position.
“Fourth down comes with trust and repetition,” Franks said. “Treylon did a good job of getting open right there (and) O-line did a great job of protecting, giving me time to deliver. It was a good executed, well called play.”
Arkansas went up tempo after that play, with Franks hitting tight end Blake Kern near the goal line and then - after another quick snap - found Tyson Morris for a relatively easy 1-yard touchdown that pulled it within seven points.
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