FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon won’t have to wait until the third quarter to get onto the field Saturday against Alabama.
Last week, Catalon served a half-game suspension for a targeting call against LSU. It was a controversial call and even one that Matt Stinchcomb with the SEC Network questioned saying he didn’t know what else Catalon could have done on the tackle. Apparently Catalon isn’t changing anything.
“I’ve just got to play football,” Catalon said. “Things are going to happen where you get put in that position. I mean you can’t shy away from contact, so you just have to be – like I said – be smart about what you do and it’s like if a guy is given up and is already down and you don’t need to make a play on it, then you know shy away. But at the same time you don’t want to take the physical part out of the game, so if you feel like you can make a hit and make it as clean as possible then why not?
“So I know that’s not going to stop me from doing what I do. I’m going to keep being physical and if there’s an opportunity to go hit, then I’m going to go take my shot for sure. It was a tough call, but it is what it is and I’ve moved on from it, and I’m just excited for this game coming up, having another opportunity to play a full game with my team.”
Catalon is second on the team in tackles with 89 and tied for the lead in interceptions with three. He has 48 solo tackles, two for loss, four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Catalon is one of the defensive backs in the country up for the Thorpe Award.
“It was definitely an honor,” Catalon said. “In high school I always watched the Jim Thorpe Awards and kind of saw who’s on it and kept up. It’s definitely an honor to even be mentioned on the award and kind of lists and everything and be up for it, for sure. But I give hats off to Coach (Barry) Odom and Coach (Sam) Carter for preparing me the whole entire year, making me a better player and a better person, and I know I couldn’t do it without them.”
Carter was up for the same award in 2014 when he was a player at TCU.
“It’s definitely a positive for me, because I actually have someone who’s been through the process of it and has had a great season, a great career,” Catalon said. “So he’s kind of talked to me about how he handled things. Just off the field stuff too, he mentors us and our DBs.
“Like I’ve said said before, he’s one of the best DB coaches you can have, because he’s so young, he’s a guy who can talk our language I like to say and put things in a perspective that we can understand and kind of understand what he went through. I think it speaks volumes that he’s actually been in this position, actually done things that we’ve experienced or want to experience. So I’m just blessed that he’s our coach and I’m able to look at him as someone that I can mentor off of and someone that I can kind of talk to if I have a question about this or that. So definitely a blessing for sure.”
Catalon and the Hogs will have their work cut out for them on Saturday facing an undefeated Alabama team that is ranked No. 1 in the nation and has an explosive offense.
“It’s SEC,” Catalon said. “You’re going to face great receivers, great running backs, quarterbacks, all the way down the list of lineup the whole year. It’s just another physical game with some great playmakers on the outside, a great back in the backfield with an experienced quarterback, so we’ve just got to do our job and execute the plan that Coach Odom and Coach Carter have for us in the back end and just play our game. If we do that, I don’t see why we can’t come out on top, for sure. Like I said, it’s going to be another physical game, and I’m ready for it.”
One thing Catalon and the defense wants to avoid is a fourth quarter like last week at Missouri when they surrendered 27 points and lost 50-48.
“Coach calls this game as how we’re going to respond,” Catalon said. “Definitely Mizzou was a game we’d like to put behind us because you know we just felt like we weren’t ourselves and kind of they attacked our weaknesses in that game. Like I said, we’ve got to respond, come together and play the defense that we know that we can.
“Coach Odom hasn’t backed down from us at all. It’s a next-game mentality and we’re going into the game with the same mentality that we’ve had every single game, that we can out-physical someone and we can win the game. I know Bama’s known for being physical and they’re well coached and has great players. But I feel if we can be physical and match it and just do our assignments, I think we can play a great, close, come out on top fourth quarter and four quarter game for sure. I know Coach Odom will have a great plan for us and I know that we can come out on top if we execute it.”
Alabama has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Mac Jones. He has completed 193 of 255 passes for 3,113 yards, 27 touchdowns and three interceptions. Catalon knows Jones presents challenges to the secondary.
“He’s one of the great quarterbacks in our league and in the country, right now,” Catalon said. “He’s got some great weapons around him. You can tell he’s coached well. He’s developed a lot over the years. So, I know all Odom will have a great plan for us against him. We’re going to execute it to the best of our ability. But it’s going to be a good game, and he’s a great quarterback, and nothing but respect for him and what he’s got going this season, for sure.”
Despite having only won one SEC game the past three years combined and being the underdog in all 10 games this season, Arkansas will enter Saturday’s contest 3-6. Catalon is quick to credit Sam Pittman for the turnaround.
“I think Pittman changed our whole mindset from the get-go with what he sold to us and kind of what he wanted our team to be about and I think everybody bought in right when he stepped in the building and we kept developing to the point that we just want to run through a brick wall for him,” Catalon said. “He’s a great coach and the coaches that he brought behind him speaks volumes to what our season has been like.
“I just wish we could pull some wins together. I do feel like our mentality changed. We kind of went into every game with the mindset of knowing we can win this game. That doesn’t change this week at all. We go in knowing we can win this game, and that’s the mentality he’s brought to our whole team. So Pittman just kind of set the whole tone for this program and I see great things down the road for this program. But like I said we’re not done yet. We’ve got to play this game and try to come out on top for sure. Like I said, I’m blessed to have coach Pittman as our coach and glad to have all the support from the coaches behind him as well.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 11 a.m. and televised on ESPN.