FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon is off to a great start to his season after four games.
Catalon has been one of the key catalysts for a much improved defense. Against Ole Miss, Catalon had nine tackles, 0.5 for loss, recovered a fumble and had an interception he returned 35 yards for a touchdown. Following practice Tuesday, Catalon reflected back on the interception against Matt Corral.
“For the first question we were just in a zone coverage,” Catalon said. “Just reading the quarterback and he rolled out and read his eyes. I just broke on the ball and made the play and had my eyes on the end zone. Took it home from there. It was a great feeling. I credit my D-line because without them all the interceptions that happened that day wouldn’t have happened so credit to those guys and everybody else who did their job. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I made the play.”
On Ole Miss’ first possession they drove to the Arkansas 1-yard line. Corral fumbled on fourth down and Catalon fell on it at the 5-yard line. The Hogs stopped Ole Miss on a fourth-and-goal play at the one again to start the third quarter. Catalon talked about those two plays.
“Those were very important,” Catalon said. “You can’t really much on that except that’s more of just I want to. Who wants to score and who wants to stop? I mean it showed we wanted the stop and we got it. I’m proud of the D-line for getting the push and linebackers holding their own and our defensive backs doing their job.
“That fourth down on the two goal line stands I credit Myles Mason. He made a good play. The guy was trying to reach over and he stopped him from doing it. That was big right there. The very next play they fumbled it and I was in the right place, right time again. I made the play. The second time same thing with Myles Mason. He made a good play. The D-line had a good push, linebackers fit the gaps well. We just made the stop. I credit the whole defense. We just wanted it and we got it. I’m proud of them.”
Under Barry Odom as defensive coordinator this team has been different this season. Catalon talked about Odom.
“Every day he’s coming to work,” Catalon said. “I like him so much because what you see is what you get. You’re not getting anything different, but a guy that’s ready to come in and make this team better every single day. Come in with a game plan every single day. That’s something I love and we build off the energy that he brings every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or a Saturday on game day the same energy and the same coach. We treat every day like a game day.
“That’s what he stands on and I think we build off that energy. I think the team is really grateful we have him because he’s a really good DC and I mean Coach Pitt really did good with his hiring. I’m glad he’s on our defensive staff. He’s just a great guy overall. He makes sure we’re good not only on the field, but also off the field. I think that’s something we appreciate very much. Overall I think he’s a great man and a great coach.”
While the Hogs are 2-2 against what has been called the toughest schedule in school history, they have faced adversity at times, but yet been able to overcome it. That didn’t happen much the past three years at Arkansas. What’s the difference?
“I will have to say overall just the demeanor of the team,” Catalon said. “I think last year there wasn’t a lot enough confidence in our ability. I think this year we have a lot more confidence what we can do and we trust each other. We’ve had a mentality of I’ve got your back and you’ve got my back on both offense and defense. I think that’s showing. We trust the coaches and we trust the game plan we have. We trust each other and we go out there there’s no doubt about that I have 100-percent trust in our D-line, linebackers and my secondary, my quarterback, receivers, special teams. I trust everyone and I think that carries over to our entire team. The whole team says the same thing. I think you see that passion and it comes out when we play. We have full trust in each other and I think that shows.”
The Razorbacks have a bye this week, but will face Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday, Oct. 31, at 6:30 p.m. Catalon talked about how the practices are going this week with no game on the slate Saturday.
“We’re prepping now, you know,” Catalon said. “We’re not going to wait. We’re going to get on it now. I know Coach preaches that, ‘Why wait when you can get on them now.’ Make sure we get our film work. Why not make sure we get a head start, so that’s what we’re doing now. We’re definitely taking a little lighter practices, for sure, making sure everyone’s healthy and good to go, getting guys back and healthy, people that are banged up.
“Getting freshmen guys a little more reps for sure, make sure that they know what they’re doing because like I said with how the season’s going you never know what’s going to happen. God forbid anybody goes down, but if it does then you’ve got to be ready to play. So, we’re prepping for them now, making sure we know everything from top to bottom, and I know Coach will have a good plan for us going down the road. Yeah, we’re going to be ready for them, for sure.”
Following Saturday’s game, Sam Carter, who coaches the cornerbacks, said this could be one of the best secondaries in school history. What are your thoughts about that?
“As far as best secondary in the country, if your secondary doesn’t believe that and you don’t play like that, that’s not the mentality a secondary needs to have,” Catalon said. “You have to believe that you’re the best secondary, and that’s how you have to play. And that’s what Coach Carter stresses to us. If you don’t believe that you’re the best secondary, then you’re in the wrong room. And you can see that in the way he coaches us and the way that he prepares us. I’m blessed that he’s on our staff because every single day he brings, I know he’s up here early, one of the first ones here and he’s the last ones out of here. That just shows the care and loves that he has for us and how much he really believes in us. And I think that just makes us want to go even harder and go even more because we know he has the full belief in us.
“He sets a good plan for us too in the back end, along with Coach Odom’s plan, and we just kind of shake that up and we see what it does Saturday, and so far it’s just been nothing but success, right now. Like I said, he’s a great guy and great coach. Like I said, if you don’t believe you’re the best secondary then you’re in the wrong room. But, I’m going to let social media take care of who they think the best secondary is and all that when it comes to numbers and all that, but of course I would believe we’re the best secondary when it comes to it. You’ve got to have that mentality. We’re just going to keep our heads down and keep pushing forward and just see what happens.”
Following the win over Ole Miss, linebacker Grant Morgan said the Hogs want to set the template for other teams to follow as far as defensive plans. What’s your thoughts on that?
“Yeah, definitely going in,” Catalon said. “I mean, you look at Ole Miss, they were a great offense. Lane Kiffin, who was a great head coach and OC, and then you’ve got Matt Corral. I mean, explosive receivers. Going in, of course I think those offenses are meant to intimidate and get you to try to experience and do things you’re not comfortable doing or either stick to things they want you to stick to. But I already knew what we had going in before was going to work. We just had eight guys. I’m on them watching them, you know what I mean.
“And Coach Odom had a great plan for us. We weren’t going to change what we do, you know what I mean? We were going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing and be consistent and make them make mistakes. An offense like that, it’s hard to stop, you’ve just got to maintain, and that will be big. Now did we go in thinking we could get six interceptions? No, it’s a little different. But I think we just sat back and read our keys and did our thing. Coach did set a good game plan for us. Like Grant said, execute. That’s all we did, and the results showed. I’m just proud of our guys and proud of our defense for keeping the same mindset going into the game and then coming out on top.”
After four games, Catalon is second on the team with 45 tackles, including 29 solo, He has 0.5 tackle for loss, one interception returned for touchdown, two pass breakups, forced a fumble and recovered one.