It’s Time for Notre Dame to Start Matthias Farley

Before the Irish take the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday for the final time this season, the school will honor the seniors playing the final home game of their careers. Notre Dame fans will be forced to say goodbye to 27 players at the end of this season, including at least four of the team’s five captains (Jaylon Smith could chose to return for another year). The team will be losing leadership both on and off of the field. One player in particular, safety and captain Matthias Farley, has been one of the more vocal leaders off the field, but hasn’t had many chances to do so on it, leaving many Irish fans scratching their heads. As Farley’s final games in the Blue and Gold draw nearer, perhaps it is time for him to get the chance he deserves.

Notre Dame’s issues at the safety position this season are well-documented. The coaching staff has fielded questions regarding the lack of consistency at the position throughout the season. Though the defense as a whole has contained some of the most explosive offenses in the country and played exceptionally well thus far, it has repeatedly fallen victim to trick plays and given up big chunks of yardage all season long. These big plays have often been the result of mistaken assignments and bad tackling by the safeties. Though the starting safeties, Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, have been inconsistent at times this season, there has been one dependable player at the position in Farley.

Farley has played in all nine games this season, but has started just two of them. In his nine appearances, Farley has racked up 29 tackles, an interception, and has forced a fumble. Redfield and Shumate have both started in eight contests thus far, and have just eight and seven more tackles than Farley, respectively. Consider the difference in playing time between the three of them, and the stats point to Farley taking over as starter at one of the safety positions. The statistics support Farley, but what has been more significant about Farley’s game is his consistency and habit of making big plays in crucial moments.

Farley’s first momentum changing play this season came in week six against Navy. In his first play of the game, Farley forced a fumble, vaulting the Irish ahead by a score. Farley made seven tackles that day compared to just two for Shumate and none for Redfield. Even though Farley outplayed his teammates and caused a turnover, the performance, for some reason, was not good enough to convince defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to insert Farley into the starting lineup.

In the only other game Farley has gotten significant playing time this season, he again outplayed Redfield and Shumate, although Redfield did play exceptional. Farley was named a starter for the game against Pittsburgh this past Saturday, solely because Shumate was suspended for the first half after being ejected for targeting in the previous game against Temple. In place of the suspended Shumate, Farley made seven tackles and intercepted a pass at his own goal line to save a touchdown. Farley bailed out his defense with an interception and led his team in tackles at halftime, but sure enough, Shumate replaced him in the first possession of the second half. Shumate finished the game with just one tackle, and seemed out of place on the field.

Farley has exceeded expectations when given the opportunity to prove himself. The senior captain has lived up to the “C” on his chest, so why isn’t he getting any respect from the coaching staff? Why does VanGorder continue to keep Farley on the bench and play wide receivers Will Fuller and Torii Hunter Jr. at cornerback over him? Sure, Farley is a safety, but he is a still a defensive player and is easily a much better option at cornerback than the team’s leading receiver.

Farley is arguably Notre Dame’s best player in the secondary, and he likely would not even be playing if Drue Tranquil had not injured his knee earlier in the year. I cannot explain how VanGorder has failed to recognize the impact that Farley has made in his rare opportunities to make one this season, I can only ask questions along with the rest of the fan base. Farley started on a defense that carried a team to a national championship game, and is now being benched for wide receivers. When VanGorder arrived at Notre Dame, many were intrigued by how many different teams he had coached for. As things stand now, one can only wonder if he made all these stops because teams knew something Notre Dame fans are just starting to realize – VanGorder’s system is far from perfect.

VanGorder touched on the problems at safety in the newest episode of A Season With Notre Dame, which airs on Showtime, “It’s not like we can just pick someone up off waivers… I don’t know what we’re gonna do.” With all due respect, Mr. VanGorder, the solution to your problem is fairly easy to see – he’s been sitting on your bench all year. I would hope your 35 years of coaching experience might tell you to do this, but in case it hasn’t, I suggest you give your senior captain the start on senior day. Maybe its time to give someone else a chance to solve the secondary woes – maybe its time for Notre Dame to start Matthias Farley.

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