Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hardmon Shines as Middleman; Ex-White High Star Plugs Hole

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hardmon Shines as Middleman; Ex-White High Star Plugs Hole

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, Times-Union sports writer

GAINESVILLE -- Florida linebacker Byron Hardmon has had his nickname -- Bam -- for years. It might be time for another.

How about The Answer?

He was the answer to the Gators' problems on defense against the run. Before Hardmon moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, the Gators struggled to defend the run. After the move two game into the season, the Gators have turned that weakness around statistically.

"I don't feel like I was the answer," said Hardmon, a former standout at White High School who was given his nickname because of how hard he hits. "I feel like we've executed as a defense now. We've changed up some things and made some different calls."

Hardmon can be modest, but the statistics support his move as the reason the 16th-ranked Gators (4-2, 2-1 SEC) aren't dead last in the Southeastern Conference against the run anymore. In UF's first two games, the Gators gave up an average of 228 yards rushing -- including 306 in a 41-16 loss to No. 1 Miami -- with Matt Farrior and Reid Fleming in the middle. Farrior had just three assisted tackles in the opener and the two combined to make four solo tackles and six assists in the two games.

The coaching staff benched the two and moved Hardmon inside, and the results were instantly better: 100.2 yards per game rushing in the last four games. Hardmon made 17 tackles (10 solo) in his first start in the middle against Ohio.

Ohio ran the option, and all but 12 of its 190 yards of offense came on the ground. In UF's last three games, the defense has limited opponents to just 74.7 yards on the ground -- including holding Ole Miss to 37 last week.

That seems to suggest that Hardmon was at least part of the answer.

"That really had a lot to do with it because now you have a mike linebacker that's making a lot of plays and making a lot of hits," UF coach Ron Zook said. "That was the thing we were trying to do. We were not getting the productivity out of the mike linebacker spot."

Hardmon has made 52 tackles since the move to the middle, and led the team in solo tackles in every game except Tennessee. …

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