2011 Big East
Week 1 - USF at Notre Dame
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Sept. 3 South Florida 23 … at Notre Dame 20
CFN Analysis: This was as un-Brian Kelly a performance as a Brian Kelly team can have. His teams are built on limiting the mistakes, completing the third down plays, and not screwing up, and the Irish turned it over five times and committed eight penalties including a few killers. Tommy Rees picked up the offense mostly by figuring out where Michael Floyd was, and the Irish almost saved the game with Floyd finishing with 12 catches for 154 yards and two scores. Call this the Opening Day jitters and it would've been nice to have played a cupcake just to get the timing down. The Irish handled the USF athleticism and moved the ball for 508 yards; now the screwups have to stop.
The Bulls didn't exactly do much on offense with a mere 128 passing yards and 126 on the ground, but there weren't any turnovers. The nine penalties were a problem, but considering the rain delays and with the major momentum swing after the first stoppage, the Bulls did more than okay. The story is more about how the Irish messed things up, but USF did its part to force the errors. No matter how it might have looked and no matter how mediocre the offense was, a win at Notre Dame is a win at Notre Dame. Now it should be smooth sailing for the next three weeks before going to Pitt. Yes, this was a statement game for Skip Holtz's program.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Kayvon Webster returned a fumble 96 yards for an early touchdown as South Florida came to Notre Dame for the first time and stunned the 16th-ranked Irish 23-20 Saturday in a game disrupted for hours because of storms.
The victory gave Skip Holtz an emotional victory in his return to Notre Dame, where he went to school and his dad Lou led the Irish to their last national title in 1988.
Webster's long return for a score four minutes into the game took all the momentum from the Irish and they couldn't recover. It came after Notre Dame had taken the opening kickoff and drove to the USF 1.
What followed was a nightmare first half that included two fumbles, a costly holding penalty that nullified a Cierre Wood TD run and then an interception of Dayne Crist by USF's Devekeyan Lattimore in the end zone that turned the Irish away.
Maikon Bonani kicked three field goals and the Bulls had a 16-0 halftime lead.
Then things got even stranger.
With the fans getting restless as the teams left the field for halftime and lightning flashing near the stadium, officials asked fans to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium and decided to keep the teams in their locker rooms.
And they stayed there for 2 hours, 10 minutes. When the Irish finally emerged, they had switched quarterbacks from Crist to Tommy Rees, who'd led them to four straight victories as the starter at the end of last season.
The game was delayed a second time by severe weather with 4:21 to go and after a 43-minute delay, Jerrell Young intercepted Rees -- Notre Dame's fifth turnover of the game.
Rees threw an 8-yard TD pass to Michael Floyd to cap a 99-yard drive with 21 seconds left as the Irish closed to 23-20. But USF recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
The game lasted 5 hours, 59 minutes.
South Florida (0-0) at Notre Dame (0-0) Sept. 3, 3:30, NBC
Here's The Deal … There's a Holtz in South Bend. Cue up the hype machine. South Florida and Notre Dame meet for the first time, marking the return of the Bulls head coach to his alma mater and the school where he was an assistant under dad Lou from 1990-93. This trip to Indiana is a very big deal for USF, which rarely gets an opportunity to showcase its improving brand to a national audience. The Irish has a way of becoming a launching site for lesser-known programs, such as Tulsa last Oct. 30, and the Bulls are hoping to make the most of this chance to play on a grander scale. There's bona fide excitement among Golden Domers for reasons other than a visit from a Holtz. The second year under Brian Kelly brings hope that Notre Dame can begin inching back toward national prominence and BCS bowl contention. The Irish will take a four-game winning streak into 2011, and the staff's systems and expectations will no longer be foreign to the players. Throughout the coach's career, his offenses, in particular, have traditionally turned the corner in Year 2.
Why South Florida Might Win: The Bulls hope to have success running the ball on an Irish D that can be pliable on the ground. QB B.J. Daniels is like a fullback when he exits the pocket, and Demetris Murray and Colorado transfer Darrell Scott give the offense a potent one-two punch out of the backfield. On defense, South Florida's speed is sure to create problems for the Irish. USF has long featured attacking D's that get to the ball and into backfields in a hurry. While that Zack Martin-led Notre Dame O-line is as tough as any in recent memory, it'll have its hands full trying to match the quickness of DE Ryne Giddins, linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and blitzing S Jon Lejiste.
Why Notre Dame Might Win: There's hope around South Bend that Kelly's spread will begin to blossom in his second fall on campus. Good news comes from the healthy return of starting QB Dayne Crist and the reinstatement of next-level WR Michael Floyd. The Irish also boast Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and TE Tyler Eifert as Floyd's compliments in a rapidly evolving receiving corps. The Notre Dame defense, while still searching for a lockdown corner and greater consistency, came a long way under coordinator Bob Diaco a year ago. The front seven will provide the spark in 2011, preventing long plays with a combination of linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson, and linebackers Manti Te'o and Darius Fleming. Unless Daniels has done an about-face as a passer, the Irish will be facing a one-note South Florida offense.
What To Watch Out For: No one will be under the microscope more than Crist on Saturday afternoon. While not an ideal fit at quarterback for Kelly's system, he was able to raise the level of his game in order to fend off Tommy Rees this offseason. Now, he'll have to resist the temptation to try and do too much, while remaining on the lookout for athletic South Florida corners Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster. Long-term, Crist will be fine, compensating for average athleticism with a live arm and a good head. However, he'll be immeasurably if the Irish can milk more from feature back Cierre Wood and a ground game that produced less than three yards a carry a year ago.
What Will Happen: South Florida is going to arrive in South Bend as if it's preparing for a bowl game, so the Irish will have a small margin for error. The Bulls are going to fly all over the field, fueled by the atmosphere and the knowledge that a national audience is in attendance. It'll be enough to keep this one competitive for all four quarters. Notre Dame, though, will survive on the strength of a superior offense. Crist will lead effectively, and Floyd will take the game over when his team needs it the most. That pitch-and-catch combo will be the difference in one of the more entertaining and competitive contests of the opening weekend.
CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 24 … South Florida 20
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Notre Dame -10 O/U: 47
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