Matthias Farley

Farley making the switch to wide receiver


On a roster relatively shy of defensive backs, Brian Kelly and staff decided to remove one more from the depth chart.

Only this time, it was before he ever officially got started.

News broke today that incoming freshman Matthias Farley is moving to wide receiver just weeks before the newcomer was set to report to campus. Farley was initially projected to play cornerback for the Irish next season, a position where the Irish have little depth behind starters Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.

The move seems to be one of the last personnel moves before the Irish begin unofficial summer workouts, getting both the players and strength coach Paul Longo properly aligned for June.

Christian McCollum of has the details:

Farley ended up with offers from a host of BCS football programs before committing to Notre Dame as a defensive back. He was all set to line up in the defensive huddle at South Bend until a call from his recruiter, Mike Elston, a couple weeks ago.

“They reevaluated after spring ball and decided I would be more valuable to the team if I played slot receiver or receiver period,” Farley said. “I don’t know if it’s in the slot or outside yet for sure. Being so young to the game still, it’s not like I’m so set at one position. Whatever they feel I can contribute the most to. I’m real excited about it.

“I’m still doing the same workout stuff. I started doing a lot more running routes and catching to get back acclimated with that. I play both sides with the same mindset, so it’s not like I have to change a whole bunch of stuff.”

Extrapolating on this one a bit, the move to wide out could be a reaction or a prediction by Kelly and company. First, Farley was an intriguing wide receiver prospect, with the raw athlete only coming to football as a junior in high school after two seasons of soccer. His first season in high school he caught 12 touchdowns, averaging a whopping 25 yards a catch after taking off the Umbros and shin-pads.

Here’s what Brian Kelly said about Farley on Signing Day:

“If there’s one guy in the skill group that physically, when he walks in here, he looks like a college football player. He has that presence about him. Great young man. With great speed. And, again, he’s a young man that can play extremely versatile. Can play at the corner position, the safety position. He can play wide receiver. We’ll kind of sort that out as we move forward.”

Farley’s move leaves the secondary with six seven cornerbacks — Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, Lo Wood, Bennett Jackson, Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown and Eilar Hardy. Behind Gray and Blanton the depth is unproven, but the Irish must feel comfortable in Jackson’s development as a fourth option and Brown and Atkinson’s cover abilities.

If Farley projected to be a safety, he likely would be behind Austin Collinsworth, who flipped sides of the ball during spring drills and is a favorite of Kelly’s. That leaves Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Dan McCarthy and Collinsworth for two safety spots. Again, not great depth, but certainly nothing detrimental.

If we look at wide receiver, you’ve got to think that Luke Massa is still a developmental project, and Michael Floyd’s return is probable, but again — not certain. That leaves Theo Riddick, John Goodman, Robby Toma, TJ Jones, Deion Walker, and Daniel Smith, with Davaris Daniels and George Atkinson also entering the fray this year. Best case scenario — that’s ten guys for three spots.

But more than likely, Atkinson is going to play a hybrid role at running back/receiver. Robby Toma has taken strides at owning the slot position, with Theo Riddick also potentially finding a new niche — something closer to Percy Harvin at Florida and not necessarily a true wideout. With Duval Kamara gone, TJ Jones might slide into the outside position opposite Floyd (assuming he’s back), and — well… you can tell that there are a ton of moving parts on the offensive side of the ball, and a lot more places where a physically developed guy like Farley might fit in right away.There’s a very good chance Farley gives the Irish needed depth at a wide receiver position far less settled than in the secondary, even if there are more bodies.

Moving the checkers around the board during preseason camp without any knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes might be an exercise in futility, but it sure is fun. Farley’s move is another example of Kelly recruiting “Skill,” and finding out where to put him later.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”