South Bend, IN – Skip Holtz's South Florida Bulls went into 20 victory over the 16th-ranked team in the nation.
South Florida (1-0) forced three red-zone turnovers and got a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown from Kayvon Webster on the game's opening possession to set the tone in a season opener delayed twice by the weather.
B.J. Daniels played mistake-free football and completed 18-of-30 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown for the Bulls, whose head coach is a Notre Dame alum, former assistant and son of the last person to lead the Irish to a national title -- Lou Holtz.
"I am [proud] of this football team and the adversity [it had] to battle through and all the highs and lows of this day with the weather and the two hour halftime and everything that we went through as a football team. It's nerve wracking enough to come in here and play the tradition and everything else of this university, and for me a very emotional day to have the opportunity to come back," Skip Holtz said.
Brian Kelly, the most recent masochist trying to bring Notre Dame (0-1) back to the prominence it had in the late 1980's and early 90's under Skip's father, switched quarterbacks at halftime after trailing 16-0.
The change from Dayne Crist to Tommy Rees was delayed two hours, 10 minutes after Notre Dame Stadium had to be evacuated because of severe lightning in the South Bend area.
"We didn't expect to have to make this move, obviously, so it's going to require us to obviously evaluate the quarterback situation and make another decision. This was a step back for us as it relates to where we thought we were going," Kelly admitted.
Crist, who earned the starting nod despite suffering knee injuries the last two years, was 7-of-15 for 95 yards and an interception before getting pulled.
Rees was more effective, tossing for 296 yards and two TDs, but the Irish continued to have trouble in the red zone with him at the helm. Early in the third quarter, an unsuspecting T.J. Jones had a pass hit off his shoulder pad at the USF four-yard line, and an alert Michael Lanaris made a diving interception.
Rees finally got the Irish on the board on their next possession by hitting Michael Floyd in stride for a 24-yard TD with 7:12 remaining in the third.
The Irish forced another punt and moved the ball quickly into South Florida territory, only to have David Ruffer hook a 30-yard field goal attempt wide left to keep it 16-7.
South Florida held the ball for the next five minutes, and its lengthy drive was extended on a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone on 3rd- and-goal. On the next play, Daniels connected with Evan Landi in the back of the end zone for a two-yard score with 11:05 left in regulation.
A Cierre Wood one-yard TD run less than four minutes later gave Notre Dame hope, but the two-point conversion failed.
Notre Dame got the ball back with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, but another impending storm forced the fans from the stadium again.
After a 43-minute stoppage, Rees was picked off on the second snap. He threw an eight-yard TD to Floyd with 21 seconds left to cut the deficit to three, but South Florida recovered the onside kick to secure the upset win.
The hosts went right down the field on the game's opening touch, but Jonas Gray was stripped at the one-yard line and Webster scooped up the loose ball at the four and raced down the right sideline to paydirt.
Maikon Bonani got more than enough behind a 49-yard kick and added a 17-yarder later in the opening quarter after USF failed to punch it in on three tries inside the five.
More costly mistakes kept the Irish off the board in the second stanza.
A holding penalty on Floyd negated a Wood touchdown run on the third play, and Devekeyan Lattimore intercepted Crist in the end zone on an under-thrown ball intended for Theo Riddick.
Riddick later fumbled a punt after calling for a fair catch at his own 20, leading to a 36-yard field goal by Bonani, who had missed a 52-yard try earlier in the quarter.
"You can't start winning until you stop losing, and the things that we did today out there obviously go to the heart of how you lose football games," Kelly said. "You lose football games because you turn the ball over. You lose football games because you miss field goals. You lose the football game because you have four personal foul penalties. The list is long."
Both teams were coming off 8-5 campaigns that ended in bowl victories...Notre Dame doubled South Florida's yardage, 508-254...Floyd totaled 154 yards on 12 catches, while Wood ran for 110 yards on 21 carries...Young's fumble return was the longest ever by a Notre Dame opponent.