If I’m a Notre Dame fan, I’m ecstatic right now.
No, the Irish wasn’t going to play for the national title anyway, and while going to a BCS game is an achievable goal – and a goal that’s still in play – the dream under Brian Kelly is to play for the whole ball of wax on a regular basis. And yes, even in defeat to South Florida, this is how Notre Dame is supposed to look if the goal is to be a player on a national level.
Mistakes can be fixed. The dropsies on punt returns, the fumbles at the goal line, and the five turnovers and eight penalties were disastrous, but again, those are fixable. Under Kelly, whose teams are usually great at not screwing up, those will change.
What’s more important was the 508 yards of total offense. Tommy Rees was terrific, for the most part, stepping in for a stunningly ineffective Dayne Crist and got the attack rolling. Against a tremendously athletic USF defense, the Irish averaged 12.6 yards per completion and 6.5 yards per play. Meanwhile, on the other side, the defense stuffed USF for just three yards per carry with an anemic 4.3 yards per pass attempt.
David Ruffer isn’t going to miss another 30-yard field goal all season long, the quarterbacks aren’t going to be so lousy at reading defenses again, and even with all the problems, and even with everything going wrong, the Irish still made it a three point game late.
Michael Floyd showed he deserves to be considered among the nation’s elite players and Mant’i Teo was terrific, leading the team with nine tackles and a sack. Around these two, all the other pieces can be filled in.
The Michigan game will be fun. If the turnovers stop, that game might show what the real Notre Dame looks like.
Hey, I’m one of the guys who still has very high hopes for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly in South Bend, but it’s shocking how ill-prepared his kids were for an opener. I expect far better execution from his teams, particularly with so much time to prep for a South Florida squad that’s hardly a juggernaut at this stage. The Irish were as sloppy as the Midwest weather on this day, turning it over five times and treating the ball like a hand grenade in the red zone. Heck, Kelly’s pick to be his starting quarterback, Dayne Crist, has already gotten the hook, one of many warning signs that the coach will have to navigate in upcoming weeks. Save for a complete turnaround over the next 11 games, those predictions of an Irish BCS bowl berth already appear to be on life support.
The flip side of the ND mess is what this victory means to South Florida. As ugly as it was at times, a win with this much exposure represents another brick in the wall for head coach Skip Holtz. How far have the Bulls come since canning Jim Leavitt in favor of the more accomplished Holtz? Over the last four games, they’ve defeated Miami, Clemson and Notre Dame, each outside of Raymond James Stadium. The best may be yet to come for one of the nation’s fastest rising programs.
By Matt Zemek
Entering this game, the smart money (if such a phrase is still acceptable in college football these days... thank you, Nevin Shapiro...) suggested that South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels would make big mistakes at the worst possible times, giving Notre Dame the forward push it would need to secure an opening-day victory.
Daniels, a much-maligned quarterback who didn't merit a strong vote of confidence this season, silenced his harshest critics (yours truly being one of them) by flipping the script and playing with uncommon poise in South Bend. In this game, Daniels relished a little role reversal - he, not his opposite number, proved to be the model of turnover-free composure. Notre Dame's quarterbacks, Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, were the skill-position performers who cracked under pressure. The same was true for Fighting Irish running back Jonas Gray, whose fumble led to a 96-yard touchdown for the Bulls at the end of the game's opening drive.
Notre Dame moved the ball far better than South Florida in the first 25 minutes, but two turnovers in third-and-goal situations drained whatever confidence Notre Dame might have brought to this particular dance. Daniels and the rest of the Bulls were able to run with those two game-changing turnovers, all the way to a finish line that arrived roughly six hours after the original kickoff thanks to a pair of lightning delays.
You can say all you want about Dayne Crist's status as a heralded recruit coming out of high school. The facts of the matter indicate that he was a running quarterback behind Jimmy Clausen two seasons ago under Charlie Weis. Last year, he didn't look like a big-time signal caller, and this season opener did absolutely nothing to change the equation.
What this game shows, if anything, is that Notre Dame has a long way to go. One shouldn't print Big East championship banners in Tampa just yet... this is a huge win for South Florida, but the Bulls and Mr. Daniels will need to show that they can play this exact style of (low-mistake) football for a full conference season.