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Tuesday October 1, 2013 Hardin remains confident his right leg can help him avoid Muschamp's glare in future

Updated: 6:35pm, October 1

Austin Hardin

Redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin has made 4 of 7 field goals through four games.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Will Muschamp’s sideline rage has been aimed at several players in his three seasons as Florida’s head coach, but in Saturday’s 24-7 win at Kentucky, that famous glare was directed at a new target.

The kicker.

Muschamp had little to be upset with about Caleb Sturgis the past two seasons. Sturgis was nearly automatic and provided the Gators a huge advantage.

Sturgis is now with the Miami Dolphins and is doing what he did at Florida. Sturgis is 7-for-7 on field goals in his brief NFL career and is one of Miami’s most effective weapons.

With the game tied 7-7 early in the second quarter Saturday, Muschamp sent redshirt freshman Austin Hardin onto the field to attempt a 53-yarder. However, before Hardin and the Gators could get set, the play clock nearly ran out.

The Gators used their second timeout of the half, prompting Muschamp to share his displeasure with Hardin in front of a national TV audience.

“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. I had total confidence he was going to hit it. It was a 53-yarder. He's got the leg to hit it. He hit it in warm-up. I was certainly expecting him to hit it. He was a little bit off and a little bit short.

“We'll put him in that situation again."

In his short tenure as the Gators’ kicker, Hardin is 4-for-7. He has made kicks from 24, 33, 23 and 33 yards, and missed from 39, 41 and the 53-yarder that fell short and wide right against the Wildcats.

Hardin said Tuesday that while others may have focused on Muschamp’s anger toward him Saturday, he hardly noticed.

“It wasn’t too bad. It was just him yelling and I know I got to do a better job next time,’’ Hardin said. “I get so zoned in that you are not really paying too much attention to anything else.”

Muschamp put Hardin on alert prior to the Kentucky game, informing reporters that backup Brad Phillips was going to take live reps in practice. Hardin kicked well enough to keep his grip on the job and is determined to prove that he is the right guy for the job.

“If anything, [the competition] just pushes me to learn and get better,’’ he said. “He doesn’t want me to be complacent in the spot I’m in. He wants to keep pushing me. It makes sense to keep the competition open. I think I have the potential and can do a really good job here.”

So does Muschamp.

After Hardin’s miss in the second quarter, Muschamp sent him back onto the field midway through the fourth quarter and the Gators in front 21-7.

Hardin nailed a 33-yarder to put the Gators ahead by three scores.

“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 said the miss was primarily due to him hitting the ball with too much of his right toe.

“I didn’t get as much power behind hit,’’ he said.

Hardin is no stranger to kicks from 50-yards and out. He was 13-for-20 at Marist (Ga.) High, including a 59-yard game-winner. All seven of his misses came from 50 yards or more in high school.

So while he has yet to hit one from that distance at UF, Hardin has the leg strength.

He also has the confidence, even after Muschamp lit him up on Saturday.

“I think I’m improving each game but I obviously thing there is more room for improvement,’’ Hardin said. “There is a higher standard here at Florida that I continue to strive for. I really hope I can get another chance for a 50-plus yard opportunity. I love that opportunity.

“I think I will.”

To help cope with his early struggles, Hardin maintains contact with Sturgis, who finished his career with a school-record eight field goals from 50 yards or more.

Sturgis visited the Gators when they played at Miami last month and made sure to offer his replacement some encouragement after Hardin missed a 39-yarder in the season opener against Toledo.

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

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