The Gophers got the help they needed in their defensive back core from sophomore KiAnte Hardin last game.
The cornerback had seven total tackles and an interception in last week’s game against Iowa.
“You’ve got him and [Jalen Myrick] that secured the corners a little bit more and let us play some people in the inside,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “There’s no question: he’s a good player and competitive, and the return game – he had a big return for us also in special teams, so it was good to have him back.”
Before the Iowa game, Hardin had only played in one game this season as he was serving a suspension for violating team rules.
The sophomore marked his return in a big way.
“[Hardin is]a really good player, so yeah, it makes a huge difference … getting him back was a huge deal,” said defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel.
Penn State redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley threw for 335 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions against the Gophers, one game before Hardin was reinstated.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard struggled to put up numbers similar to McSorley’s stats when Hardin was playing. Beathard had 142 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Defensively, we did a good job keeping them out of the end zone in the first half and getting them off the field when we needed to,” said redshirt senior linebacker Nick Rallis.
Hardin is a solid addition to a defensive back core that has struggled this season. Opposing quarterbacks threw for nine touchdown passes and one interception before Hardin came back into the lineup for the Iowa.
Sawvel compared Hardin’s game to NFL cornerback and former Minnesota player Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
“[Hardin] is very much like Briean. [Hardin] is really slick,” Sawvel said. “He’s got great ball skills. He can judge a ball real well. He can track it really well. He has a unique playmaking to him.”
Redshirt freshman Ray Buford is also back from the same suspension. They both saw action against the Hawkeyes and the defense had a season high in turnovers.
Sawvel said having Hardin back helps the defense be more complete.
“When you get [Hardin] back, now you’ve got two good corners out there at the same time all the time, and that’s the foundation,” Sawvel said.
The Gophers will have every defensive back healthy for the Maryland game. Minnesota will have to come up with stops from Hardin and the other defensive backs if the team wants to stop the two-game losing streak.
“This is the first time since … the first game that we’ve really had more of our depth at corner like we hoped to,” Sawvel said.