Notebook: Hardin converts 4 field goals in spring game

Florida kicker Austin Harden watches a field goal go through the uprights during the first half of the Orange & Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 7:19 p.m.

Along with the productive overall offensive performance Saturday, one of the most promising things to come out of the spring game was the performance of place-kicker Austin Hardin, who converted all four of his field-goal attempts.

Hardin was good from 43, 42, 24 and 35 yards kicking for both teams.

This is the same guy who couldn't kick straight last season. Mired in a slump, he made only four of his 12 field-goal attempts and was 0-for-6 from 40 yards and out.

His performance Saturday should give him a considerable confidence boost.

“Well, I think confidence (is big),” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “The golf swing and the swing of the kicker's leg are very similar, and a lot of that has to do with confidence and hitting the ball the same way all the time.

“I think he's just been more consistent with his plant foot, he's been more consistent with his swing motion of kicking through the ball, and more consistent with his follow through, falling forward.

“You see too many times last year he's falling off to the left on everything. Well, that causes you to overcompensate, pull it, push it. So he's been more consistent with kicking the ball."

Hardin has clearly emerged as UF's kicker.

He missed an extra point Saturday, but that was the result of a bad snap, Muschamp said.

Going for the tie

The Orange had a chance to win the game after Skyler Mornhinweg threw a 10-yard TD pass to tight end Bair Diamond with only 7 seconds remaining. But Muschamp elected to kick the extra point for the tie instead of going for two and the win.

“No, I wanted to kick as many times as I could,” Muschamp said when he was asked if he considered going for two. “Frankie (Velez) had not had an opportunity, so I wanted as many times as we could kick, I wanted to kick. So those guys kicking, I thought Austin kicked extremely well."

Defensive stars rest

The reward for an excellent spring was a day off Saturday for two of UF's elite defensive players — defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

Hargreaves and Fowler dressed out, but did not play Saturday.

With both having an excellent spring, Muschamp decided to rest them and give some of the younger players more action.

“We needed the young guys to play a bunch of snaps today,” Muschamp said. “We knew that going in. I think you go into a day like today, get some answers, answer yourself some questions about where you are and how far you need to go.

“But more than anything, sometimes for those young players to realize how far away they are. Sometimes they can get a little bit of a skewed opinion of where they are. Certainly the talent level is there, but we have a ways to go to shore up some things on the back end.”

Brown to stick at OG

Trenton Brown, the starter at right offensive tackle in the final five games last season, started Saturday's game at right guard and will remain at that position in the fall, Muschamp said.

“You've got to get your best on the field,” Muschamp said of the 6-foot-8, 361-pound Brown. “We're going to get him in a situation where we did one-on-one board drills every day. When you have a guy at that height, you worry about putting him inside because of pad level, especially when you play some of those not smaller, shorter stature defensive tackles. It's hard to get under their pads.

“He answered our questions pretty quickly that he can get his pads low and do what he needs to do when he wants to. He's a guy on the one pull today with a beautiful block on Jarrad Davis, really cleaned out the side for us there. He's a big man, moves extremely well and improved every day.”

When asked if Brown's move inside was permanent, Muschamp said, “Yes.”

No. 2 QB battle goes on

The competition for the No. 2 quarterback role between sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Will Grier will carry over to preseason camp in August.

Although Mornhinweg had a better game statistically than Grier on Saturday, the two have been pretty much dead-even throughout the spring.

“Both of those guys did some nice things through training camp,” Muschamp said. “The younger players taking a huge step forward in this 112 days before we report is critical, and those two guys specifically. And Jeff as well, but Jeff knows that.

“It's really important for those guys to continue to improve. The number of at-bats they continue to have in a new offense for Skyler and college football for Will, they're just going to continue to get better and better."

In Saturday's game, Mornhinweg completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, while Grier was 8-of-15 for 72 yards and an interception.

“Will was a little jittery when he got in on that first drive and hung one on a curl. But that's to be expected,” Muschamp said. “As a coach, you know going into those situations. But those guys, I really have looked at Practice 1 to Practice 15. Have those guys improved every day? Yes, I think the answer is yes. Those guys have made subtle and sometimes huge leaps of improvement in what their play has been."

'B' position just OK

The offense did not get much Saturday out of its new “B” position, a hybrid fullback/tight end.

Muschamp said earlier in the week that injured and former starting tailback Matt Jones could see some time at the position in the fall.

But Muschamp said after Saturday's game that Jones also will continue to see time at tailback.

“Matt needs to carry the ball too,” Muschamp said. “(We'll see how) Matt grows in that (“B”) position. But he's going to play the running back position as well."

No major pains

Muschamp cringed at the end of his postgame news conference when he was reminded that the Gators sustained no major injuries Saturday, or during the spring.

“We've still got to get them out of the locker room,” he said laughing. “What are you trying to do, jinx me? That was a mean shot there."

Two players — defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and fullback/tight end Hunter Joyer — left the spring game with injuries that do not appear serious.

Joyer had ice on his knee after the game and Brantley was wearing a sling on his right arm.

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