The Arkansas Razorbacks led the LSU Tigers 24-20 late in the game Saturday when freshman safety Jalen Catalon was called for targeting. When viewed in real time, the flag looked warranted, but when slowed down on replay, it was clear Catalon’s hit from the shoulder and side of his body, more like a hip check, and not the with helmet.
“I thought he tried to avoid the hit, coming in with his shoulder,” Hogs head coach Sam Pittman said after the game. “Their receiver went lower as he was going to the ground and I felt like he was trying to avoid the contact. I can see what they saw as well, but certainly to me it looked like he tried to avoid, getting his head out of there and avoid the receivers helmet as well.”
Jalen Catalon was disqualified and the Tigers took the 15-yard penalty and scored a go-ahead touchdown on the drive. This 27-24 loss will bother Arkansas fans for a while, since there was nothing else Catalon could have done outside of avoiding contact altogether and allowing the receiver to catch the ball uncontested. But that’s not SEC football.
“To me [Catalon’s] the key to our defense,” Pittman said earlier in the week. “We’re so fortunate that he’s young. He’s a freshman but in mentality he’s a senior….He’s just real valuable to us.”
I believe Jalen Catalon is the best player on the Razorback football team and a future NFL safety. Pro Football Focus rated him as the second-highest graded safety in the SEC entering the week. This egregious call took him out of the game in clutch time. Arkansas lost their best player on defense, who was having one of the best games of his young career, when they needed him most. Sure, there was no guarantee Arkansas would have gotten a stop with him on the field — but it should have had the opportunity.
“I think the game’s a lot about confidence and belief and things of that nature,” Pittman continued. “Obviously, you want to play your best players, but he brings such a confidence, such an aura around him that he affects the team positively maybe even more than his play.”
“Obviously, he’s a very good player and things of that nature, but it’s very seldom you might say a redshirt freshman is a leader, but he is. So that affects you in a lot of areas: skill-wise, playability, communication, and the fact that our players believe in him.”
Catalon had been disqualified earlier this season against Texas A&M, which may have factored in the decision against LSU. Against the Aggies, the play after that call, his replacement Myles Slusher missed a tackle allowing the Aggies to run into the end zone. The Aggies went on to win 42-31.
By rule Catalon will not be allowed to play the first half in the upcoming game against Missouri. Arkansas will be without their best player again on defense. Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek tweeted after the game that he would work with officials to keep this from affecting Catalon’s ability to play against Missouri
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. My student-athletes deserve better. pic.twitter.com/vGEd20u0FB— Hunter Yurachek (@HunterYurachek) November 21, 2020
This was not the only bad call in the game that affected Arkansas. LSU running back John Emery Jr fumbled the ball early in the second quarter at the LSU 30-yard line. Joe Foucha immediately jumped on the ball. The replay team said there was no clear recovery. Are you kidding me? Joe Foucha jumped on the ball before it could even bounce twice. LSU would fumble later that drive and Arkansas would recover. Ball don’t lie.
The SEC office denied to comment on the two calls, according to Hawgbeat’s Andrew Hutchinson.
What makes all of this even worse is that the referee in charge of LSU-Arkansas was Marc Curles, who has a history of making controversial calls that cost teams games. Back in 2009 when Arkansas played No. 1 Florida he called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that helped the Gators in their winning drive. The SEC came forward and said there had been a mistake and his crew was removed from their next assignment. That was just one of many bad calls that game that went against Arkansas.
And how can Hog fans forget the infamous backwards spike that wasn’t “clearly recovered” by a Razorback in the Auburn game at the start of this season? Officials more directly cost the Hogs that game. While the LSU game may or may not have gone down as a “W”, there is no question that Auburn game would have.
Technically, the Hogs are 3-5 but had the SEC officials done what they should have, they would be 4-4 or 5-3 right now.
Other coaches know it, too.
That’s why Lane Kiffin just today said Sam Pittman, not Kiffin, deserves to be the SEC’s coach of the year:
Not even close!! ? ☠️ @CoachSamPittman 4 sure!!!!!! https://t.co/LiiLlhcVGC— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 22, 2020
The bottom line is SEC officiating is too often terrible.
Part of that is because it’s currently done by part timers. The NCAA needs to allow the SEC to hire full-time professional referees while creating more transparency about how their work is graded. When a referee does mess up, he should be held accountable, just as players and coaches are. There isn’t not enough consequences for referees who constantly miss calls.
It is one thing to miss calls in live action, but to miss them on slow motion replay consistently is unacceptable. I do not know how Marc Curles is still allowed to officiate football games. It seems that he has a personal vendetta with Arkansas. This problem isn’t new. It has been happening for years and fans are sick of it.
These games need to be managed under competent officiating. When referees cost teams wins, there are big potential implications. Wins matter to scouts, schools, and fans. These games can cost people millions of dollars. Players’ futures can be altered, coaches’ careers and salaries can be affected, and schools can lose a lot of money.
SEC officiating has disappointed Hogs fans over and over again. It will make a small but necessary step towards atonement by working with Yurachek and allowing Catalon to play the first half against Missouri.
Analyst Trey Biddy goes into more detail about how Arkansas got screwed (again) here: