SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Matthias Farley was a captain without a position until sophomore safety Drue Tranquill tore his ACL celebrating a pass break-up late in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 30-22 win over Georgia Tech last weekend.
Three plays into replacing Tranquill against the Yellow Jackets’ ruthlessly efficient triple option, Farley made a play that stood as a reminder of why he won’t be marginalized on Notre Dame’s defense this year. Farley dislodged the ball from Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jaylon Smith.
For a Notre Dame team that’s been forced to embrace a next man in mentality, Farley proved why it’s important for backups to always be ready — even if he’s not altogether pleased with his situation.
“It bothers him,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He's competitive. I've had to have talks with him about being prepared and being ready. He doesn't like it. He wants to be out there starting. He believes that he can help this football team as a starter. But he's one of those guys that makes this 2015 football team special in that he'll do whatever is necessary for the good of the team.”
Farley lost his starting safety gig after the 2013 season — a year in which he was banged up and saw his performance lag — but excelled as Notre Dame’s primary nickel corner last year. He tied for the team lead in interceptions (four), was tied for second in sacks (three and a half), and had the third-highest tackles for a loss total (six and a half).
But Brian VanGorder wanted his 2015 nickel corner to be able to play more man coverage, so Farley was displaced first by freshman Shaun Crawford and then by senior KeiVarae Russell after Crawford suffered a season-ending torn ACL in August. Moved back to safety, Farley backed up Max Redfield against Texas and Virginia, and Tranquill against Georgia Tech.
Farley's track record, which dates back to starting during 2012's run to the BCS Championship, means his teammates have the utmost confidence in him if he does have to quickly enter a game like he did against Georgia Tech.
“He's been just about everything in his time here, and so I just think it's so funny that it's even a question if he's ready or if he's going to perform because he's a baller,” linebacker and fellow captain Joe Schmidt said. “He's been a baller. He's always going to be a baller. He's the same way in practice, and to him it's a game and he's ready at all times. That's why we all have complete confidence in Matthias because he's been there and he's done it and he's been successful and he'll continue to be successful.”
Farley hasn’t publicly pouted about his diminished on-field role. He’ll resume backup duties behind Redfield this weekend against UMass, with the former five-star recruit returning to Notre Dame’s lineup on Saturday. Farley could find himself filling in for Tranquill in Notre Dame’s dime package, but even if he does, his responsibilities will be limited to a handful of plays per game and special teams duty.
When, where, why or how he finds the field aren’t among Farley’s concerns, though. And that’s a good example to set for a team that’ll have to continue to rely on its depth over the next nine games of the regular season.
“I don't try to make a role for myself,” Farley said. “I just try to control what I can control, which is my attitude and my effort and those things I can change, whether I'm playing a hundred snaps a game or none.
“You have to prepare like a starter because who knows what could happen on a Saturday and your number gets called, so you have to be ready.”