'My student-athletes deserve better': Yurachek says he'll lobby for reduced Catalon suspension

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, November 21, 2020
Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon (1) tackles LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. Catalon was called for targeting on the play and ejected from the game. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon (1) tackles LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Fayetteville, Ark. Catalon was called for targeting on the play and ejected from the game. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

— Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek said Saturday he plans to appeal the targeting suspension that would cause safety Jalen Catalon to miss the first half of next week’s game at Missouri.

Catalon was thrown out during the fourth quarter of the Razorbacks’ 27-24 loss to LSU on Saturday when he delivered a hard hit to receiver Kayshon Boutte. The replay appeared to show Catalon hit Boutte in the shoulder.

According to the NCAA rulebook, a player has committed targeting if he makes “forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.” Among the characteristics of a defenseless player is one who is in the process of making a reception, as Boutte was.

“I cannot change the outcome or any of the other missed calls, but I will work with the appropriate SEC officials to make sure that this ‘targeting’ call does not cost Jalen Catalon our next game,” Yurachek tweeted Saturday. “My student-athletes deserve better.”

SEC Network color analyst Matt Stinchcomb disagreed with the call during the network’s game broadcast.

“Other than just avoid the receiver entirely, I don’t know what else he can do,” Stinchcomb said, noting Catalon appeared to turn sideways to soften the hit to Boutte, who was falling down. “He’s turned completely sideways. No crown of the helmet, obviously. It’s almost like a hip check. I’m not even sure there’s head or neck.

“I get why the flag comes out because you allow the replay official to officiate the entire call….I don’t know how that could be targeting.”

When referee Marc Curles announced the SEC replay official “confirmed” the call on the field, Stinchcomb said, “I don’t get it.”

It was the second targeting call that was upheld during the game. LSU cornerback Eli Ricks was thrown out for making contact with the head of Arkansas receiver Mike Woods in the first half. Because Ricks was thrown out before halftime he will be eligible to play in the first half of the Tigers’ scheduled game against Ole Miss next week.

Catalon was ejected for targeting for the second time this season. He was also thrown out during the first half of the Razorbacks’ loss at Texas A&M on Oct. 31.

Catalon has been one of Arkansas’ top defensive players this season. He had 16 tackles against LSU to bring his season total to 86. He also is tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said earlier this season he likes Catalon’s aggressive hitting style that he described as intimidating.

Pittman said he wished the team wouldn’t have lost Catalon, whose ejection came during LSU’s go-ahead touchdown drive.

"I thought he tried to avoid the hit," Pittman said. "He was coming in with his shoulder. Their receiver went lower as he was going toward the ground. I felt like he was trying to avoid the contact, but I can see what they saw as well. But, certainly, it looked to me he was trying to get his head out of there, trying to avoid the receiver's helmet as well."

Asked for the explanation he received from Curles, Pittman steered clear of criticizing the officiating.

“Man, I’m not going to answer that stuff,” Pittman said. “It costs me money and it’s over with. You saw it. I mean…the explanation was what I said earlier.”

Arkansas linebacker Grant Morgan was less restrained in his assessment of the call.

“I don’t want to say I saw the best view or anything or I was the closest one, but I play football,” said Morgan, who tied a career high with 19 tackles. “I think everyone there saw it, and everybody…obviously they’re the refs and they have to make calls. My thing is: I play football. Catalon plays football. It’s hard to slow down. It’s hard to lay off when you know you’ve got a hit like that. And Jalen Catalon continues to play really aggressive, and really physical, and that’s just him. That’s how he’s going to play.

“I hate it for him. He’s one of the most dynamic players I’ve ever been around and ever seen here at Arkansas….I’m not going to make a stance on it, just because I don’t want to. But I know that they’re the refs for a reason, and I’m a player.

“A lot the rules in football nowadays are getting so precise, and getting so they’re almost lawyers out there on the field. They’ve got a lot to think about, too. They’re playing the game, they’re trying to get out of our way. They’re trying to look at a lot of stuff, too. So it’s hard. But they’re the refs at the end of the day.”

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