FAYETTEVILLE – No longer can Myles Slusher fill Jalen Catalon’s shoes.
Because you can’t fill another man’s shoes, Arkansas Razorbacks senior linebacker Grant Morgan explained, when those shoes you wear belong to you.
Thrust four games into the Arkansas starting lineup when Preseason All-American safety Jalen Catalon was injured and underwent season-ending surgery, young sophomore, Slusher, a 2021 true freshman reserve, is off and running against the nationally No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. CBS televised SEC game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. as Arkansas’ safety in his own right.
“He’s not a young buck no more,” Morgan said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s a guy who’s really stepped up and they are his own shoes. People say he’s got to fill those shoes all the time, but he’s filling his own shoes. He’s doing really well and he’s doing a good job at it.”
Slusher’s interception plus a pass breakup and six tackles last Saturday helped the Razorbacks defeat the LSU Tigers, 16-13 in last Saturday’s SEC game at Baton Rouge, La. For that they advanced to 7-3, and 3-3 overall and SEC records and forged from 25th to 21st in Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings.
For his so far 8-game season, Slusher missed the first two games injured, he has 26 tackles. For the games that Slusher has been depicted starting to fill Catalon’s shoes, Slusher has 17 tackles, both of his season’s interceptions and two of his three pass breakups.
“Slush has done amazing,” Morgan said. “The way he’s progressed since Catalon has been out you wouldn’t really know that we’re missing somebody back there. He’s been vocally leading our defense and the plays he’s been making just show you right there what he’s done and how hard he’s worked.”
Against Alabama, the 9-1 reigning national champion off an unbeaten 2020 season and leading the SEC West at 5-1, Slusher knows what he’s up against. Quarterback Bryce Young, deemed the leading Heisman Trophy contender, completes 232 of 327 passes for 3,028 yards and 33 touchdowns vs. three interceptions. Receivers Jameis Williams, 57 catches for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns, and John Metchie, 67 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns, excel.
“They’ve got a great receiving corps,” Slusher of Broken Arrow, Okla. said. “There’s no doubt about that. They can really, they’re fast. They’re real quick twitch. As long as we can handle our assignments I think we’ll be fine.”
And as long as Slusher can continue developing as the secondary’s signal-calling quarterback…
“It’s been real good,” Slusher said. “At first it was tough but I’ve adjusted to it kind of well and being more vocal. So it’s coming along.”
Greenwood’s Morgan, a sixth-year senior as 2020 seniors were allowed 2021 eligibility because of last season’s covid pandemic, has been around long enough to play against former Alabama national championship become NFL quarterbacks Jalen Hurst and Tua Tagovailoa.
Morgan likens freshman Young to Tagovailoa II.
“ Bryce Young, you’d like to say he’s one of a kind, but you’ve seen a guy like him,” Morgan said. “His name is Tua Tagovailoa. It’s crazy to watch the film and think ‘I feel like he (Young) should be a left-hander’ because they play similar and the way they demand the offense.”
What Alabama Coach Nick Saban demands from his Tide has beaten Arkansas in 14 consecutive SEC West games starting in 2007.
Arkansas senior offensive tackle Dalton Wagner and junior receiver Treylon Burks both asserted the belief these 7-3 Hogs have they can beat Alabama. They’ve beaten the same Texas A&M Aggies that beat Alabama and last week squeezed by LSU, 16-13 in overtime in Baton Rouge, La. much like Alabama squeezed by LSU, 20-14 the previous week in Tuscaloosa.
“It helps a lot,” Wagner said. “You’ve seen a lot of teams that we’ve played play Bama close. Really, A&M beat them early in the year, and we have played A&M. To see LSU play them as close as they did, it just shows that if you go in there with a belief, confidence in your teammates, confidence in yourself most of all, anything can really happen on any given Saturday.”
“”Dalton nailed it,” Burks said. “Just by believing in each other and knowing they’re human just like us. We just have to go out there and believe in each other and just play the game.”