With 10:17 left before halftime in Notre Dame’s 35-17 victory over the Louisville Cardinals on Labor Day night this past Monday, Irish safety Kyle Hamilton shot from the first-down marker on your television screens up to the line of scrimmage to make a tackle in the A-gap against Cardinals tailback Hassan Hall.
Hall’s quickness jolted him past the 6-foot-4 freshman for a 15-yard gain before Julian Okwara pulled Hall to the ground, giving the underdog Cardinals their sixth run of 10+ yards in the contest already.
As you’ll hear in the quick breakdown from ESPN color commentator Kirk Herbstreit in the clip below, Hamilton was in the right place with the proper timing of his run up to the LOS, but looked like a kid playing in his first college football game.
(Pause this clip at the 0:28 mark because we’re going to discuss a couple things here.)
Hamilton did a good job shooting the A-gap here on Hall, but the speed led him into a missed tackle.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) September 4, 2019
But, watch what he does two plays later. That’s why he’s on the field as a true freshman. You can’t teach range.
(The analysis from Herbie/Fowler + timing was too perfect.) pic.twitter.com/jkAt2Xp7eV
Hamilton’s in great position as the free safety here to make a play with his timing and sprint up to the line. He does everything right except the most important thing and that’s make the tackle on Hall and it leads to a scamper into Notre Dame Fighting Irish territory.
Let’s slow it down further here.
This is every defender’s dream (or at least one of them). It’s basically the Oklahoma drill now. One on one with a back or receiver and you have to make the tackle.
But, as we saw at full speed during this play, Hamilton is just a shade out of control and plays a little too fast here, giving Hall the opening he needs to use his speed to bolt past the oncoming Hamilton in the gap.
It’s just one play, but during this time of the contest, Hamilton and the Irish had no answers for Louisville’s rushing attack. It’s a typical freshman mistake and let’s be fair here, he wasn’t the only one missing tackles on the defensive side of matters on Monday. It’s Week 1 after all.
Now, onto the second part of the sequence. (This pass breakup was better than you remember, too.)
What helped Hamilton make this play was a few different things here:
- It’s a long throw to make across the field from Jawon Pass after rolling out to his right on a “throwback” call.
- Like Herbstreit said, he kept his eyes on the ball, while staying in position to help on the deep post mind you, and then trusting his eyes to make a break for the crosser who leaked out back across the field.
- Look where he starts his break on this PBU ...
... vs. where he breaks up the pass.
If I gave you three guesses as to who would later break up the pass on 3rd-and-17 to force another Louisville punt, which was followed by a 36-second touchdown drive by the Irish to make it 28-14 in the third quarter off the always-reliable four verticals call, you would know who it was, right?
Alohi Gilman was the best defender on the field for the Irish on Monday night with 10 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, but Kyle Hamilton showed that he was certainly worth the preseason hype he was receiving after his performances in fall camp and in scrimmages with the two pass breakups and four solo tackles.
It’s rare you see big safeties these days in football and for the Irish to not only have two experienced ones in Gilman and Jalen Elliott, but to have a 6-foot-4 freshman with range, proper instincts and length to frustrate any receiver (and tight end), that gives the Irish a massive boost in the secondary.
The defense, despite the early struggles and much-needed adjustments from Clark Lea, allowed just three points and 195 total offensive yards in the final three quarters after allowing 14 points on 18 plays with 163 total yards for the Cards on their first two drives of the evening.
Those adjustments are easier to assess when you have playmakers on the field like Hamilton.