Matt Hegarty's first start will be memorable, one way or another.
On Sunday afternoon Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly revealed that the hyperextended knee suffered by center Nick Martin against BYU had shown itself to be a "significant knee injury" that will shelve the junior for the rest of the season.
Hegarty filled in ably against BYU as Notre Dame rushed a season-high 47 times and the ground game amassed 235 yards in frigid, windy conditions. The Irish didn't allow a sack either, a statistical category where Notre Dame ranks second nationally.
All that will be tested at Stanford next weekend as the Cardinal rank third nationally in rush defense and eighth in sacks. On Notre Dame's last trip to Palo Alto, Tommy Rees got knocked out of the game as Irish quarterbacks were dropped five times.
That all puts pressure on Hegarty, who will be the second reserve forced into the starting lineup due to injury. Right guard Christian Lombard was shelved for the season by back surgery last month, forcing Steve Elmer and Conor Hanratty into action. Hanratty started against the Cougars, although Elmer played.
Hegarty has played sparingly in his three seasons in South Bend, taking a red-shirt year as a freshman and serving as a reserve as a sophomore.
"I thought he did a pretty good job," Kelly said. "He did not go against a four-down situation where he was unconvered. He had somebody on his nose virtually the entire three quarters he was in there.
"He snapped the ball without any mistakes. I thought the big series for him, we were backed up on our goal line and he did a very good job under those conditions. I thought he held his own. First time in there, he did a nice job."
Stanford will present a different challenge for Hegarty in dealing with a road atmosphere on top of the Cardinal defense. Both Chris Watt and Zack Martin complimented Hegarty's composure in the aftermath of the BYU win, with that mental edge even more critical while heading to the West Coast.
"I think Matt did a great job," Watt said "He really surprised me coming in. I'm so proud of the way he played."
Mark Harrell likely moves into the No. 2 center role, although Kelly said Hanratty or Watt could see time there.