HOGS: young defenders shine; notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Between them in Saturday’s opening loss to Georgia, Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon and defensive end Zach Williams combined for 16 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
Not surprisingly both were requested topics for Arkansas coach Sam Pittman during Wednesday’s SEC Coaches/Media teleconference before the Razorbacks’ closed practice.
Arkansas travels to Mississippi State for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. SEC West game on the SEC Network Alternate Channel.
Arkansas led No. 4 Georgia 10-5 midway through the third quarter before losing, 37-10 amid a combination of defensive fatigue and offensive and special teams miscues.
Catalon, a redshirt freshman in his starting debut, sparked Arkansas’ early defensive stand. He made nine tackles, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
Sophomore backup Williams, the son of former Razorbacks 1980s linebacker Rickey Williams and lettering last year as a reserve, was summoned extensively when senior starting defensive end Dorian Gerald exited with an injured ankle. Williams responded with seven tackles, including a sack.
With Gerald still ailing when the Hogs practiced Tuesday, Williams and sophomore Mataio Soli, a starting end last year held out for health reasons against Georgia, likely must play key roles in trying to pressure SEC record-setting quarterback K.J. Costello in Mississippi State's Air Raid coached by Mike Leach.
Costello’s 60 passes netted five touchdowns and a SEC game record 623 yards Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 44-34 upset of reigning national/SEC champion LSU.
“Zach played some ball last year for us,” first-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman noted of Williams’ 12 tackles in nine games for the 2019 Razorbacks. "I thought he played hard. Obviously, he got a sack. So that'll do something for his confidence. We're going to need him for pressure on Costello on Saturday."
Gerald’s availability for Saturday is “wait and see,” Pittman said Wednesday morning.
Catalon drew postgame plaudits. His performance in the second half, however, suffered as the defense played more than 36 of the game’s 60 minutes.
Arkansas’ offense struggled against a Georgia defense that returned eight starters from last year’s national leader in rushing and scoring defense.
“Catalon played well,” Pittman said. “He missed a few tackles in the second half. We’re working on our tackling, we have all year. But he made some big hits, and he is a leader back there. And for a redshirt freshman he’s a fine player, and we’re awfully happy he’s on our team.”
While Georgia ranks No. 4 nationally because of its defense, while the offense tries to establish an identity since three-year starting QB Jake Fromm turned pro.
Costello, a grad transfer from Stanford, has achieved his Mississippi State identify in one game by throwing all over the field to three receivers netting 183, 158 and 125 yards: wideout Osirus Mitchell (seven catches for 183), running back Kylin Hill (eight for 158) and wideout JaVonta Payton (six for 126).
“Obviously, he (Catalon) has a different set of challenges this week,” Pittman said, “because he’s going to be all over the field because of the Air Raid.
"Man, did they (MSU) look good on film. They had just an outstanding game vs. LSU.”
Offensively, the Hogs drilled extensively this week on getting properly aligned in coordinator Kendal Briles’ attack. Getting his own players aligned distracted Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks against Georgia, Pittman said.
“I know that’s part of the quarterback’s job,” Pittman said. “But it’s hard to look downfield, see what’s going on, see pre-snap reads as a quarterback when you’re looking at your own team trying to get them lined up. We’ve done a much better job of that this week.”
Regarding preparation off Monday and Tuesday’s closed practices, Pittman said, “Our football team has had two really good practices, and they have a great attitude. And I like (against Georgia) the way we ran to the ball on defense.”
Arkansas’ Oct. 10 SEC West game vs. the Auburn Tigers will kick off at 3 p.m. in Auburn, Ala. on the SEC Network.