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Pittman comments on Razorback injuries after Cincinnati

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE –  The exit before the game ended injuries to defensive backs Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher  during Arkansas’ 31-24 season-opening victory over Cincinnati last Saturday could sideline them from the Razorbacks’ SEC opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Arkansas and South Carolina, also 1-0 beating Georgia State, 35-14 last Saturday in Columbia, S.C., kick off at 11 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on ESPN.

Catalon, a 2020 All-American safety and Arkansas defensive co-captain with senior linebacker Bumper Pool, was seen on the late game sideline with an arm in a sling.

Starting nickel back Slusher went down prior to Catalon and did not return.

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was asked about both during his Monday press conference.

 “We’re not ready to figure out Catalon’s situation,” Pittman said. “Slusher’s in the same boat.”

Pitching a 14-0 first-half shutout, Arkansas’ defense yielded 24 second-half points with the secondary depleted.

Latavious Brini, the graduate transfer via national champion Georgia, closed against Cincinnati at safety while Jayden Johnson replaced Slusher.

Reserve junior cornerback Khari Johnson could figure against South Carolina at either safety or nickel “or both probably,” Pittman said.

“I told the staff, we’ve got to be concerned about the ones that are going to be there for sure,” Pittman said. “We’ve got people that we can move if we need to, Khari Johnson being one of those guys.”

Pittman amplified on Khari Johnson’s versatility as a previous nickel and safety.

“You know we moved him to corner for a reason,”

 Pittman said.  “We moved him to safety for a reason. At times last week he was  running two-deep at corner.  So he’s a good player.  He’s smart. He’s probably going to have to be a guy that’s going to have to play both of those spots.”

Hudson Clark, via LSU transfer Dwight “Nudie” McGlothern and Malik Chavis rank as Arkansas’ currently best cornerbacks, Pittman said.

McGlothern made the biggest defensive play of the first half. He not only thwarted a Cincinnati drive to the Arkansas 26 intercepting quarterback Ben Bryant’s pass but returned it 51 yards. McGlothern’s theft set up quarterback KJ Jefferson’s 15-yard yard touchdown run for the game’s first score.

“Obviously the pick was a huge play in the game,” Pittman said.  “But he’s got to be more consistent.  Basically that and some injuries  was why he was running three  (on the depth chart)  at times in camp. But he is a gamer.  We’ve figured that out.  I know when we played LSU last year  and he was over on the other side, he made some really good plays against us.”

With Cincinnati returning its starting offensive line, minus its injured center, from last season’s 13-1 College Football Playoff team, the onus was on Arkansas’ defensive line.

The Hogs’ defensive front fared well  for its part  holding the Bearcats to 113 yards rushing.  Returning defensive ends Zach Williams and Jashaud Stewart and returning defensive tackles Isaiah Nichols, injured during the game but “fine” now Pittman reported Monday, and  Eric Gregory got plenty of help from transfer defensive linemen Terry Hampton via Arkansas State, defensive end Landon Jackson via  LSU with a sack among five tackles against Cincinnati, and via Georgia Tech defensive end Jordan Domineck making the key second half defensive play. Domineck both dislodged and recovered the Bryant fourth quarter fumble setting up Jefferson’s final of his three touchdown passes for a 31-17 lead.

“I thought Terry Hampton played really well,’ Pittman said. “That would be the first guy right off the bat that I thought played a really good game. Landon Jackson played hard, had some plays. I just think he’s going to get better. And then of course Domineck. Anytime a guy makes a big play, he sticks out.  I thought our transfer guys played really well.”

The defensive line will be challenged by a running quarterback Saturday.  Former Oklahoma become South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler runs so well that Pittman said the Gamecocks most effective in its multi-formation offense against Georgia State was Rattler operating out of an empty set with no running backs.

Pittman and South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer know each other well. They were neighbors when Pittman as offensive line coach and Beamer as tight ends coach/special teams coordinator joined Kirby Smart’s Georgia staff in 2016.

“Obviously we worked together in the same meetings for 14 hours a day, so we knew each other well,” Pittman said.

Arkansas special teams coordinator Scott Fountain was a Georgia special teams analyst in 2016.

Both teams put a special emphasis on special teams. Especially South Carolina last week against Georgia State. The Gamecocks blocked two punts recovered for touchdowns and set up their lone first-half touchdown running off a fake field goal for five yards on fourth and five.

“Special teams scored 21 points, basically,” Pittman said of USC. “They’re really good on special teams but they’re a good team in all three phases.”

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