Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Blair thrust into bigger role for Razorbacks
Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair (15) runs a play against Cincinnati during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE — Comparing football and actors’ pedigrees, it seems Arkansas just replaced Al Pacino with Howie Mandel.
Recruiting safety Jalen Catalon out of Mansfield, Texas, for the 2019 Razorbacks, former Arkansas coach Chad Morris declared Catalon “the best high school player I ever saw.”
For Sam Pittman’s 2020 Razorbacks, Catalon lived up to Morris’ hype. Catalon netted first-team All-SEC, third-team All-America and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the nation’s most outstanding defensive back.
Meanwhile, out of Pine Bluff, safety Simeon Blair in 2018 wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Morris regime. He walked on.
Yet with defensive co-captain Catalon injured during the Sept. 3 season opener vs. Cincinnati and for the second consecutive year sidelined for the season following shoulder surgery, Blair replaces him as defensive co-captain alongside esteemed senior linebacker Bumper Pool.
A three-year letterman after redshirting, Blair played special teams for Morris in 2019. Under Pittman, Blair earned a scholarship and started 11 times into three years.
Blair has started both games this season. He’s earned this battlefield promotion to captain, Pittman said, noting Catalon concurs.
“Seeing Blair was the next-highest vote getter for captain, we made him a captain yesterday in our team meeting,” Pittman said after Arkansas defeated South Carolina 44-30 on Saturday in both teams’ SEC opener. “The team was ecstatic about that. Cat had talked to me about it that since he won’t be able to come back this year, that it would be nice if Blair was able to be a captain. It’s just right, because he was the next vote getter.”
Seems the Razorbacks previously looked to Blair’s leadership alongside Catalon. They especially did when Catalon exited injured during Arkansas’ 31-24 victory over Cincinnati.
“I’m very vocal even with Cat is out there,” Blair said. “I just love getting the team going, bringing that spark, bringing that energy to make them want to play harder and harder.”
Certainly the secondary misses Catalon. Shut out the first half, Cincinnati scored 24 second-half points minus Catalon, including two touchdown passes. Cincinnati totaled 325 passing yards.
Against South Carolina, Arkansas yielded 371 passing yards. Receiver Antwane Wells caught 8 passes for 185 yards with a 62-yard TD.
Improving the secondary is primary, Pittman and Blair said.
But the secondary sports some primary accomplishments. Blair’s third on the team 12 tackles for two games include a key open-field red-zone stop for a loss prompting a missed Cincinnati field goal.
Dwight McGlothern, the transfer cornerback from LSU, has two interceptions in two games. Cornerback Hudson Clark recovered a South Carolina fumble caused by safety Latavious Brini, the Georgia transfer.
Brini, Catalon’s starting replacement, came to Arkansas with pedigree. He started 11 games for 2021 national champion Bulldogs.
“It’s kind of hard,” Pittman said, “for me to go, ‘Woe are we,' whenever we've got a guy who started a lot of games for the national champions.”
Or lament promoting a captain emerged the hard way.
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