Hardin continues to be challenged

Austin Hardin, a redshirt sophomore, is 4-for-7 this season while connecting from 24, 33, 23 and 33 yards, and, despite having a strong leg, missing from 39, 41 and 53 yards.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 8:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 8:41 p.m.

Florida entered this season with a dozen starters gone from 2012, and none have been harder to replace than kicker Caleb Sturgis.

He left UF with the most field goals of 50-or-more yards (eight) and total kicks made (70) in school history.

Austin Hardin has struggled to fill those shoes.

The redshirt sophomore is 4-for-7. He's connected from 24, 33, 23 and 33 yards, while, despite having a strong leg, missing from 39, 41 and 53 yards.

“I think I'm improving each game,” he said, “but obviously I think there is more room for improvement. There is a higher standard here at Florida that I continue to strive for. We have a history of really good kickers.”

Hardin has traded texts this season with Sturgis, who is 7-for-7 in his rookie campaign with the Miami Dolphins. He paid a visit to the Gators when they played at UM and offered some advice to his successor.

“His main message is to continue to stay confident and calm and take it kick by kick,'' Hardin said.

Against Kentucky, Hardin trotted out early in the second quarter to attempt a 53-yard field goal, but took too long to get set. UF coach Will Muschamp was forced to burn his second timeout of the half.

“Austin has got to be more aware of marking it off,'' Muschamp said afterward. “The play clock is ticking down in that situation. You shouldn't have been in the situation to begin with.”

ESPNU cameras caught Muschamp giving Hardin his infamous stare and some choice words.

“It wasn't too bad,” Hardin said. “It was just him yelling. I know I've got to do a better job next time.”

Hardin missed the kick wide right and a little short following the timeout, but he didn't attribute it to Muschamp's rant.

“Not really,” he said. “I get so zoned in that I'm not really paying too much attention to anything else. I hit the ball off my toe and didn't get as much power behind it as I normally have.”

Muschamp sent Hardin back onto the field for a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter, and he gave the Gators their final three points in 24-7 win over Kentucky.

“It was huge,'' Muschamp said. “We've got to convert in that situation to make it a three-score game. There is no question that was a big, big field goal. I've got a lot of confidence in Austin. I think we are all kind of used to what we've had before and that's not what is here.

“But he has also done a fantastic job. Every situation we have asked him to perform, I think he's done well. We'll just continue to work through it with him. That's why we've got to continue to get him some confidence. That's why I put him out there for the 53-yarder. I told him, 'If I don't have confidence in you we're not kicking in this situation. I've got confidence you're going to make this.' I thought he hit it well.”

Hardin is looking forward to his next opportunity from that distance, and he hopes Muschamp keeps challenging him. After the Tennessee game, he threatened to take his starting job away if he didn't improve.

“If anything, it just pushes me to learn and get better,'' he said. “With me being a young guy, he doesn't want me to be complacent in the spot I'm in. He wants to keep pushing me. I think I have the potential and can do a really good job here.”

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