September 03, 2011
South Florida 23, Notre Dame 20.
From start to finish, it was arguably the weirdest game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium. At six-plus hours with two extended weather delays, it was certainly the longest. But the end result was all-too-familiar: For the fourth time in four years, the Fighting Irish dropped a home game to an obscure visitor as a double-digit favorite, and watched their hopes of returning to relevance in a BCS bowl sink into the mud.
More accurately, they watched them tumbling awkwardly into the gloves of South Florida defenders. Four times the Irish drove inside the USF 10-yard-line and came away with nothing to show for it, beginning with a fumble at the goal line that was returned the length of the field for the Bulls' first touchdown:
That was followed by an interception into the USF end zone, which was followed by another interception off the intended receiver's helmet inside the USF five-yard line, which was followed by a missed field goal that should have been a chip shot. In the first quarter, they committed back-to-back facemask penalties that set up a USF field goal. Later, they flubbed a punt, leading directly to another USF field goal. Between the points Notre Dame lost on giveaways and the points USF earned as a direct result, they represented a 34-point swing.
The first weather delay, with the Bulls leading 16-0 at the half, seemed like an opportunity for a turning point. The Irish had nearly two hours to regroup before returning to the field. They switched quarterbacks. Briefly, after new QB Tommy Rees drove the offense 66 yards for a touchdown on his second possession out of the break, it looked like the comeback was on. By the second break, with USF up 23-13 and 4:21 showing on the clock, that had slipped away from them, too. When they returned for the final four minutes, it was only for Rees to pad the box score — in both directions — with another interception and another long, meaningless touchdown drive to accentuate the disappointment.
One thing the Irish learned: Tommy Rees is the quarterback, or deserves to be over preordained starter Dayne Crist, who turned in an abysmal 86.5 passer rating and led the offense to zero points. Another thing: Brian Kelly is possibly the angriest coach in America. If his over-the-top, vein-popping reactions to his team's assorted misfired today is the norm throughout the season, he may not make it to a bowl game.
Then again, if Notre Dame's assorted misfires are the norm, there isn't going to be a bowl game. In which case, he may not want to live through the rest of it, anyway.
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