Kickoff: Indiana at Massachusetts, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
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BLOOMINGTON -- If you're Drew Hardin, you know the score. You lead Indiana's unbeaten football team (yes, we know it's just one game, but work with us here) in tackles (8), recover your first college fumble and you get opportunity.
“It's all about competition,” the sophomore safety says. “At the end of the day, I make them better, and they make me better. That's what it's all about.”
IU is traveling to Massachusetts on Saturday and Hardin will be a defensive focal point. This is a big step for him given he started preseason camp No. 3 on the depth chart behind junior college transfer Ryan Thompson and veteran Alexander Webb, plus was getting pressure from two other junior college transfers Tregg Waters and Antonio Marshall
He battled and, for now at least, won the starting job.
“He got a better overall feel for his responsibilities, his techniques and where he fits within the system,” co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said. “He came in and competed. He kept a positive attitude, continued to work and worked himself into a starting position.”
It helped that Hardin was 6-foot and a sturdy 209 pounds, and brought an aggressive mindset.
“I felt he was sound and was playing physical,” Mallory said. “That he was a guy who knew the coverage checks, knew where he was supposed to be. I felt comfortable that he wasn't going to have mental mistakes out there.”
Last year secondary mental mistakes were a seemingly never-ending problem, and Hardin had his share. But he learned from them and from the overall experience.
“It forced me to learn the defense quicker,” he said. “I just came with maximum effort. I can read my keys better, read the offense better. That helps me with the flow of the game.”
Still, Hardin has limited job security. Thompson, Webb and Waters could move ahead of him at any time if his performance slips.
“Sometimes when guys feel comfortable as a starter, maybe they're not going to come out and continue to work as hard as they need to work,” Mallory said. “I think every week we're going to open it up and whoever practices well, those are the guys who are going to play on Saturdays.”
As far as Massachusetts, the Hoosiers face an offense that did little in a 37-0 loss to Connecticut. The Minutemen totaled just 59 yards for the game, just three on the ground.
IU, meanwhile, got burned for 176 rushing yards against Indiana State.
“We need to step up better, read our keys better and fill the holes better,” Hardin said about stopping the run. “As far as effort, we played well. We need to keep the intensity up and go full steam.”
Hoosier preparation has been more challenging because Massachusetts has a new coaching staff. Coach Charley Monar was the Notre Dame offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian coached linebackers at Purdue. Special teams coordinator Roderick Plummer came from Yale.
Hoosier coaches had to look at film from Notre Dame, Purdue and Yale to get indications of what to expect, plus film of Massachusetts last year to get an idea about personnel. The Connecticut loss was so one-sided it didn't provide much insight.
“These are games that I always have a hard time with,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “It's kind of confusing and it's kind of frustrating, because as you watch tape, you also watch players. But for the majority of tape we're watching, we're watching players we're not going to play against.
“I never like playing opening games playing teams with new staffs. Not that I was worried about them changing, it's just harder than I want it to be. Visually, I just always struggle with that view of football.”