NCF Nation: Bulls-Irish-090311

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There are considerably fewer of these to hand out following a loss, but several Notre Dame players managed to stand out in a 23-20 defeat:

Michael Floyd: The senior hauled in a career-high 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He passed Jeff Samardzija's previous school record of 179 career receptions, finishing the day with 183 for his career. And he moved into second on the school's all-time receiving yards list (2,693), trailing only Golden Tate (2,707).

Cierre Wood: Wood ran for 104 yards on 21 carries, becoming the first Irish back to eclipse the century mark in a game since Armando Allen did against UConn in 2009. He added three catches for 44 yards, including a career-best 31-yarder on the Irish's first play from scrimmage.

Manti Te'o: The defense as a whole deserves plenty of credit for holding USF to just one touchdown in less than ideal circumstances, and it was led by Te'o. The junior linebacker had a team-high nine tackles, including a sack on third-and-9 in the second quarter that forced a 52-yard field goal attempt Maikon Bonani couldn't connect on.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was nothing to prepare Tommy Rees to wait 2 hours, 53 minutes during a game that no one else thought he had any stake in.

At least not in the 12 days since coach Brian Kelly sat down with him and Dayne Crist and delivered the decision that would keep the sophomore on the sidelines when the Notre Dame offense took the field for the first time Saturday, a day that ended with a 23-20 loss to South Florida.

"Dayne will be the starter and I expect him to be the starter for 13 weeks," Kelly told reporters a day after making his choice. "We have great confidence in his ability to lead us to a championship."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRETommy Rees completed 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions after taking over as quarterback in the second half.
Eleven days, five turnovers and a 5-hour, 59-minute game later, Kelly, Reese and Crist find themselves at the same crossroads they entered preseason practices with. A fork in the road that was only supposed to arise had one of Crist's two surgically repaired knees not withstood the challenge of live-game action.

Crist looked fine health-wise, and everyone can be thankful for that. But nearly 11 months without game action and an inability to generate any momentum on an offense that looked so good so early has re-opened the battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot.

Distraction, Tommy?

"We have no choice," the sophomore said. "As the quarterback you're the leader, and you can't have a distraction like that take over the team. It's a long season and we can't let that get a hold of us."

Kelly didn't need to waste a moment of his team's 2-hour, 10-minute version of halftime before informing Nos. 10 and 11 of the change to open the third quarter.

A 16-0 deficit, a pair of turnovers in the red zone and four three-and-outs -- including three straight to end the first half -- was all Kelly needed to see before yanking his starter.

After the rain had subsided, after the 12-and-a-half-minute warm-up period had elapsed and after much of the 220th straight home sellout crowd had left and re-entered Notre Dame Stadium, Rees trotted out with the Irish offense at the 13:32 mark of the third quarter, much to the surprise of the teammates he took the huddle with.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen, so we know what we're gonna get," said running back Cierre Wood, whose 104 yards made him the first Irish back to eclipse the century mark since 2009. "As soon as he came out, 'All right, let's do this. It's time to move.'"

Oh, Rees knew the drill. The circumstances were different from Oct. 30, 2010, against Tulsa, sure. In that game he had to lift an offense that was looking for guidance after Crist went down with a ruptured patella tendon in his left knee that ended his season. Saturday he was faced with the same task when Crist simply couldn't get it done after his most promising drive, his first one, ended with a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 7-0 deficit, setting the tone for a frustrating first half.

The results last year and Saturday were similar for Rees, both ending in losses after high passing numbers, dazzling touchdown tosses and head-scratching interceptions.

"Completely," Rees said when asked how last year helped him. "Getting plenty of time and plenty of experience has put me in a good spot."

Rees completed his first four passes Saturday, then he threw a costly pick in the red zone on a day the Irish simply couldn't punch it in from close.

He finished 24-of-34 for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, numbers that came in one half. And numbers that don't reflect the Irish's several dropped balls or lack of a running threat down two scores the entire time.

"I don't want to put him in that situation," Kelly said of Rees. "I want him to have the luxury of a running game which we had established when Dayne was in there. We just did not complete the circle relative to all the other things that needed to occur.

"We believe we can run the football. If Tommy has a good running game, if we decide that he's our guy, that's going to take a lot of the load off of him. He didn't have that luxury in the second half, so it's really hard to evaluate it per se."

Crist was the first person Rees turned to after losing the starting job, and he said Crist was there supporting him throughout the second half after being replaced.

The little brother, big brother relationship has eased this dynamic for the rest of the offense, which has seemed to tune out what in many locker rooms would be a distraction.

But make no mistake about it. Notre Dame, a BCS bowl game hopeful, is staring at an 0-1 start and a textbook quarterback controversy as it prepares for the first night game in Michigan Stadium history next Saturday.

"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," Kelly said. "This was a step back for us as it relates to where we thought we were going. We certainly did not believe or think that we would have to make the decision that we made today."

Video: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly

September, 4, 2011

Coach Brian Kelly discusses Notre Dame's loss to South Florida.

USF gets momentum-building win

September, 4, 2011

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- His players gave him a collective hug, and shouted beautiful words.

“We’ve got your back,” they told him.

“We love you,” they said.

“We appreciate you.”

“This one’s for you.”

Skip Holtz never uttered one word to his players about what a win at Notre Dame would mean to him. But did he really have to? None of his players were alive when Holtz played there, but they were not born yesterday.

They understand the history, the tradition, the meaning -- even if the Irish of today are far different than the Irish of the Holtz era.

So they embraced their coach and embraced the start of what could be a rollicking season, beating Notre Dame 23-20 Saturday.

The way they did it, with a bend-but-don’t-break defense, surviving two weather delays, coming up with gigantic plays when they had to -- that spoke to Holtz more than winning at a place that has meant so much to him and his family.

So now the inevitable question comes, once we get past the sentimental meaning of this game. What does a win like this do for USF?

Surely there have been big wins in the history of the program. Miami. Florida State. Auburn. Is this the biggest?

[+] EnlargeSouth Florida's Skip Holtz
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCoach Skip Holtz and South Florida celebrated a win at Notre Dame, where he went to school and where he was an assistant coach under his father Lou Holtz.
“We’ve had some big wins, but as I told the team last week, I’m much more concerned how we handle this game, whether we win or lose,” Holtz said. “What we have not done is we have not been able to line up and play consistently throughout the course of a year and win a Big East championship. That’s the No. 1 goal that we have as a football team right now with what we’re trying to do.”

Holtz wants to keep sight of what is ahead, but there is no question a win like this gets the Bulls much-deserved national attention. Going on the road and beating a ranked team will do that, regardless of the recent history at Notre Dame.

The Holtz story line was a nice one, and he grew emotional when asked how it felt to win there. He said it had not sunk in. But what had sunk in was the tenacity of his players.

All summer, the defense preached turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. “[The coaches] emphasized turnovers, just getting our hands on the ball, strips, interceptions, anything we can do to change the momentum of the game and make plays,” cornerback Quenton Washington said.

The game plan going into the game was to have a bend-but-don’t-break defense, to make sure it did not give up huge pass plays, specifically to Michael Floyd.

If the Irish ran 20 plays in a drive so be it. So long as they did not reach the end zone. The strategy paid off because the defensive players came up with one gigantic play after another.

It started on the first drive of the game. Notre Dame marched straight down the field, ripping off a 31-yard gain, then a 26-yard gain. The Irish got down to the USF 1-yard line when Jonas Gray got the ball. He rushed into the pile, but Jerrell Young was there. He stuck his hand onto the ball and with the strength of Midas, ripped it out. The ball came loose. Kayvon Webster was there to grab it, and he ran 96 yards for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.

“I hit him and my teammates held him up and I put my hand there,” Young said. “I felt the ball and I just ripped and it came out.”

But that was not all. Incredibly, USF stopped Notre Dame two more times inside the 5-yard line. Next it was DeDe Lattimore with an interception in the end zone. Later, it was Mike Lanaris with an interception off a deflected pass to kill another drive.

In all, the Bulls got five turnovers and won the game -- despite giving up 508 yards and gaining just 254.

“We had luck. I’ll say luck of the Irish,” Young said with a laugh. “I commend my teammates to keep fighting. We kept giving them yards, but we held tight.

“We stood up in the end when it mattered.”

Now they have a victory that matters. But how the Bulls follow it up is what matters the most.

“We really wanted this win for the program,” Young said. “It’s a big step, Notre Dame with their history and all. But even if we had won or lost this game, it had nothing to do with our Big East championship goal.”

Video: USF's Sterling Griffin

September, 3, 2011

USF receiver Sterling Griffin talks about the Bulls' 23-20 win over Notre Dame.

Irish fall flat in opener against USF

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two rain delays and two quarterbacks equaled a difficult season-opening loss for Notre Dame on Saturday, as the Fighting Irish dropped a 23-20 decision to South Florida.

Five turnovers -- including three in the red zone -- ultimately doomed the Irish, who outgained the Bulls, 508-254. USF did not commit any turnovers on the day.

USF coach Skip Holtz joined Gerry DiNardo (LSU) and Eddie Anderson (Iowa) as the only other Notre Dame graduates to defeat their alma mater as a head coach.

Sophomore Tommy Rees replaced starter Dayne Crist to open the second half after Crist went just 7 of 15 for 95 yards in the first two quarters.

Rees finished 24 of 34 with 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Final: USF 23, Notre Dame 20

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Here are some quick thoughts on USF’s 23-20 win over No. 16 Notre Dame on Saturday.

How the game was won: USF won the battle in the red zone. The Irish were able to drive on the Bulls, but every time USF needed a big play deep in its own territory, it got one. USF forced turnovers on three trips Notre Dame took inside the USF 5-yard line. Kavyon Webster returned a fumble 96 yards for the opening score of the game; DeDe Lattimore and Mike Lanaris got critical interceptions. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many yards the Irish racked up, the USF defense did what it needed to do to help the Bulls get the win.

Turning point: Notre Dame cut the lead to 23-20 with 21 seconds remaining and went for the onside kick. The ball was bouncing and for the taking, but Lindsey Lamar recovered the ball and the Bulls walked out of South Bend with the victory.

Stat of the game: Five. That is the number of turnovers for Notre Dame in the game.

Unsung hero: Jerrell Young. It was Young who stripped Jonas Gray on the first drive of the game, causing a fumble that Webster picked up and returned for a touchdown. Then with 4:21 left in the game after a second weather delay, Young intercepted Tommy Rees on the very first play to seal the victory.

What Notre Dame learned: The Irish came into the season with high hopes for a BCS season. That might still happen, but they have got to learn how to take care of the football. Too many times the Irish had chances to score or seize momentum, and they failed to do so. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was so infuriated at several points in the game, his face turned various shades of red and purple. He pulled Dayne Crist for Rees in the second half, so we will have to wait and see whether he has decided to make that change for good.

What USF learned: The Bulls are no doubt a contender. A team that many thought would be a dark horse this season is not a secret any longer. A national television audience got to see what coach Skip Holtz has assembled at USF. B.J. Daniels looked much more confident and in command of the offense. Adjustments will have to be made on defense, but the Bulls leave South Bend having made a huge statement.

What it means: It was a statement game not just for USF but for the Big East. The league runs the high risk of going undefeated on opening weekend, something it desperately needed. USF might not be a national school, but the Holtz name is a national name, and this huge win will definitely be noticed around the nation.

Notre Dame resumes play once again

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's offense resumed play at its own 13 with 4:21 remaining in the game, ending a 43-minute weather delay, the second of the game.

The first delay, following the end of the second quarter, lasted two hours, 10 minutes and was the first of its kind in the Fighting Irish's 123-plus year history of football.

South Florida leads 23-13.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It looks Notre Dame will have something in common with Michigan when the two teams meet next weekend in the Big House.

The Fighting Irish's game against South Florida was suspended at 8:41 p.m. ET because of weather conditions with 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bulls lead 23-13.
Notre Dame will be facing a second-and-6 from its own 13 if play resumes.

The suspension comes on the heels of a two-hour, 10-minute delay after the first half, which USF entered with a 16-0 lead.

According to the NCAA, a game can be considered official after three full quarters, leaving open the possibility that we have seen the last of Notre Dame's opener.

The halftime delay was the first weather-related delay in Notre Dame football's 123-plus year history.

Michigan's 34-10 win over Western Michigan today ended with one-minute, 23 seconds left in the third quarter.

Never a dull moment around the Irish, win or lose.

USF-Notre Dame suspended again

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The USF-Notre Dame game has been suspended for a second time Saturday because of weather in the area.

The Bulls lead the Irish 23-13 with 4:21 left in the game. The stadium is being cleared and the teams are off the field. The first weather delay lasted two hours, 10 minutes and occurred at halftime.

But this time, enough of the game has been completed that officials could call it if they chose to do so and the outcome would stand. An NCAA game becomes official when three quarters have been completed.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A quick scoring drive following a B.J. Daniels touchdown pass has Notre Dame closing the gap on South Florida. But will the Fighting Irish have enough time?

Cierre Wood's one-yard touchdown run cut the Bulls' lead to 23-13 with 7:35 remaining, but the Irish could not convert on a two-point try after a pair of USF penalties. The Irish took just three minutes, 40 seconds off the clock, relying heavily on Michael Floyd. The senior receiver hauled in four catches for 44 yards on the drive and has matched a career-high with 11 catches on the day, totaling 144 yards.

Floyd also surpassed Jeff Samardzija's school reception record of 179 career catches on the drive.

Notre Dame will have to rely on its defense to respond after it surrendered its first touchdown of the season.

Daniels' 2-yard touchdown pass to Evan Landi made it 23-7 with 11:05 remaining following a Gary Gray pass interference penalty on third-and-goal.

USF gets much needed TD

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- USF got a much-needed long touchdown drive to give itself some breathing room over Notre Dame in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls were able to put together a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from B.J. Daniels to Evan Landi, giving them a 23-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The drive wasn't without its share of tense moments. USF had a third-and-goal from the 1, but was called for an illegal substitution penalty coming out of a timeout. On third-and-goal from the 6, Daniels lofted a pass for Sterling Griffin in the corner of the end zone that went incomplete. But Gary Gray was called for pass interference.

USF scored on the next play. The drive was their longest of the afternoon and came when the Bulls needed it most.

USF needs to regain momentum

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It feels as if USF needs to make something big happen offensively against Notre Dame.

The Bulls have managed just 48 yards and three first downs in the third quarter. They still lead 16-7 going into the final quarter, but Notre Dame has gained yards left and right all game. The Irish feel as if they are on the verge of taking the game over, but then make one mistake after another.

Notre Dame has gotten into the red zone on all its third quarter drives. The first ended with another turnover, when Mike Lanaris intercepted Tommy Rees. Incredibly, that was the third red-zone turnover of the game for the Irish.

Michael Floyd caught a touchdown pass to close it to 16-7. But David Ruffer just missed a 30-yard field goal on another red-zone trip. The Bulls need a sustained drive to keep the ball away from the Irish and get some more points on the board. The lead feels too precarious right now.

Red zone struggles continue for Irish

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Maybe Notre Dame should just go for the deep ball every time. Thus far, the Fighting Irish have had more success that route as opposed to operating inside the opponents' 20-yard-line.

Tommy Rees and Michael Floyd broke the scoreless drought for the Notre Dame offense, hooking up on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 7:12 remaining in the third quarter to cut the South Florida lead to 16-7. But the red zone struggles have continued, keeping this a two-possession game.

Rees's pass pass to T.J. Jones on the quarter's opening drive bounced off the receiver's shoulder before dropping into the hands of Bulls linebacker Michael Lanaris. Two possessions later, David Ruffer missed a 30-yard field goal attempt that would have cut the Bulls' lead to six.

The Irish offense has certainly shown more of a hop in its step under Rees, who is 10 of 14 passing for 140 yards. But at what point does the unit -- along with the special teams, responsible for a turnover -- run out of chances?

Rees completed his first four passes on his opening drive before tossing a pick on a first-and-goal from the 5.

The defense has continued to do its job, forcing consecutive three-and-outs before holding USF to a single first down on its third possession of the second half.

USF-Notre Dame resumes

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The USF-Notre Dame game has resumed after a storm delay of two hours and 10 minutes.

The Bulls lead 16-0 but they will see a different Notre Dame quarterback under center. Tommy Rees will start the half in place of Dayne Crist. But first, USF receives the ball to begin the third quarter.

This was the first weather delay in Notre Dame history.