Notes: How rare is first-time win at Notre Dame?
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- How hard is it for teams to beat Notre Dame in their first trip to campus, the way USF did Saturday night?
The Fighting Irish once went 56 seasons -- from 1921-76 -- without allowing a first-time visitor to win in South Bend, winning 38 straight in such games. Of the 122 schools to come to Notre Dame, USF is just the 14th to win in its first try there, with Notre Dame holding a 103-14-5 edge (.865) against first-time visitors, including a 45-9-1 mark (.827) since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930.
Beating Notre Dame in a season opener? It's just about as difficult to do -- USF's win was just the 13th time Notre Dame lost to open a season since 1900. Legendary coaches Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Frank Leahy had a combined 35 season openers at Notre Dame without a single loss.
Speaking of rare happenings, it's notable that USF safety Jerrell Young stripped the ball from Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray, forcing the fumble Kayvon Webster returned 96 yards for the longest defensive touchdown in USF history. It's notable, because Notre Dame running backs hadn't fumbled the ball in their previous 224 carries -- they had just two fumbles in 359 touches last year, both coming against Boston College.
And forcing five turnovers by Notre Dame in South Bend? That hasn't happened in five years, since the Fighting Irish did so against Michigan.
RARE COMPANY: With Saturday's win, USF joins Florida State (4-2) as the only Florida schools with a winning record against Notre Dame. Florida is 0-1 against the Fighting Irish, while Miami is 7-16-1.
And how many schools can say they have a perfect record against Notre Dame? Only six schools that have played the Fighting Irish since 1915: USF, Connecticut, Tulsa, Georgia, N.C. State and Oregon State. Of the six, five have single wins, while Oregon State is 2-0.
BIG-TIME DRIVE: The 80-yard, 14-play touchdown drive USF mounted early in the fourth quarter was huge when you think about how completely the Bulls' offense had stalled before that. Even with a 16-0 lead, USF had totaled 62 yards on 28 plays in their previous seven possessions combined, resulting in five punts, a field goal and a knee to end the first half.
BIG PLAYS? WHO NEEDS 'EM: Great stat picked up by NBC Sports' Keith Arnold -- USF won Saturday despite having a longest play of 18 yards. Notre Dame had 9 plays of 18 yards or longer, seven of them at least 22 yards. It seems rare that Notre Dame would pile up 500 yards of total offense and still lose, but they did so just last year, getting 535 in a September home loss to Michigan. The last time USF gave up 500 yards and won? They did so last season at Cincinnati, allowing 590 yards and still beating the Bearcats.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann's average of 36.8 yards wasn't particularly impressive, but his situational punting was outstanding, with three kicks inside the 20-yard line and zero touchbacks. Brockhaus-Kann had punts downed or fair-caught at the Notre Dame 13, 9 and 1-yard line.
Another misleading statistic is that USF averaged just 16.8 yards on its kickoff returns -- Lindsey Lamar's successful recovery of Notre Dame's onsides kick in the final minute is officially logged as a 1-yard return. Take that away and USF averaged 22 yards on its other three returns.
USF's punt-coverage unit was outstanding Saturday -- out of seven punts, the Bulls allowed a total of minus-2 return yards and recovered a muff by Notre Dame's Theo Riddick that set up an early field goal.
THIRD-DOWN WOES: One lingering problem from 2010 was USF's inability to convert third-down opportunities. Facing a stout Notre Dame defense, the Bulls went 2-for-14 on third downs, though a pass-interference call in the end zone on third down doesn't count toward that total.
Early on, the Bulls struggled in third-and-short situations, coming up a yard short on their first three third downs despite needing 3 yards or less to convert. Twice, running back Darrell Scott got 2 yards on third-and-3 (the second time, he followed by converting a fourth-and-1) and quarterback B.J. Daniels was stopped on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line; Daniels also went incomplete on a third-and-2 play.
As USF's offense struggled much of the second half, six of the Bulls' seven third downs required at least 6 yards to convert -- the biggest conversion of the day was Daniels' 12-yard pass to tight end Andreas Shields on a third-and-10 on USF's lone touchdown drive in the fourth.