Notre Dame survived its greatest remaining regular-season challenge on Saturday without star safety Kyle Hamilton. Two days later, Irish head coach Brian Kelly revealed it is rather likely his defense will need to make do without the junior captain for the rest of the season.
“His injury is going to take time more than anything else …,” Kelly said at first, before going into a surprising amount of detail.
“The injury itself is generally a six-week injury, so there was some meniscus involvement, but that is no longer an issue. … This is much more about the healing around the knee itself, and there’s no structural damage at all.”
Six weeks from when Hamilton injured his knee in the first quarter against USC on Oct. 23 would be a week after Notre Dame has concluded its regular season.
“Then we have to see where we are with College Football Playoffs, bowl games, things like that.”
In other words, it is unlikely Hamilton returns from a two-month hiatus to play in a non-Playoff bowl before he heads to the NFL as a likely top-10, if not top-5, pick. Hamilton would thus finish this season with 35 tackles and three interceptions in six-plus games, his cross-the-field pick at Florida State in the season opener being the most notable of them this season.
KYLE HAMILTON IS EVERYWHERE.
The safety gets his second interception of the game and his first game with multiple interceptions @NDFootball ☘️
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 6, 2021
Again, only assuming Hamilton does not return in a gold helmet, he will finish his career with eight interceptions, his first having been returned for a touchdown in his very first snap in Notre Dame Stadium.
In his stead, the Irish turned to sophomore Ramon Henderson at Virginia, and he responded with four tackles and his first-career interception. The former cornerback did not expect to get the start until Tuesday, partly because flu kept him out of both practice and the loop on Monday.
“I talked to my mom the other night, Thursday, and told her what’s going on, and she told me, ‘Be calm, be confident in myself,’” Henderson said after the 28-3 win. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, playing football since I was seven, so at the end of the day, it’s just playing football.”
Henderson gave Hamilton some of the credit for getting him up to speed on the position, along with the rest of the safeties group.
Fortunately for Notre Dame, that group will not be as tested the rest of the season as it thought it would be Saturday — “thought” being the operative word there because Virginia star quarterback Brennan Armstrong did not play due to a ribs injury. Henderson said he was told Armstrong would not play during a Saturday morning walk-through, but that did not change the Irish approach.
“I don’t think there was any change, whether [Armstrong] or [freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk] was in,” Henderson said. “We knew they were good offensively, we knew they had a lot of different people to play around.”
Georgia Tech (2:30 ET; NBC) averages 221.1 passing yards per game on 7.42 yards per attempt, an offense that averages only 28.8 points per game. Stanford, meanwhile, may have lost starting quarterback Tanner McKee for the rest of the season. Without him, a trio of Cardinal quarterbacks went 10-of-22 for 94 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions at Oregon State on Saturday in a 35-14 loss.