Notes: Lightning struck twice for Bulls, Holtz
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In 123 years of football, Notre Dame had never encountered a lightning delay like the Fighting Irish went through -- twice, amazingly -- with nearly three hours of delays and two stadium evacuations in Saturday night's game.
But fledgling USF, opening just its 15th season, had the divine luck to have gone through exactly that only three weeks ago in Vero Beach.
Severe lightning around campus prompted Notre Dame officials to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium, with a capacity crowd of 80,795 fans leaving for the shelter of nearby buildings, including the Joyce Center basketball arena next door. Both teams were sequestered to their locker rooms, and coaches went so far as to agree that no game tape from the opening half could be viewed during the delays.
After extensive rains and continued lightning -- NBC aired the 2010 Notre Dame-Utah game to fill the void in its national programming window -- the teams returned to the field at around 7:25 p.m., more than two hours after the first half ended. Then, with 4:21 left in the game and Notre Dame trying to rally against the Bulls, another weather delay suspended play for 43 minutes.
Somehow, the Bulls had been there before, having had their first scrimmage of the preseason stopped twice by lightning as the team trained in Vero Beach on Aug. 13, something Holtz reminded his players of as they waited in the locker room.
"That was the first thing I said to them ... 'Hey, we've been here before,'" Holtz said. "So an experience like that -- you can't prepare for what either team had to go through today."
Notre Dame had momentum after the first break, changing quarterbacks to Tommy Rees and dominating the third quarter. But on the first play after the second break, safety Jerrell Young intercepted a Rees pass, the fifth and final turnover by the Fighting Irish.
The weather could have been even worse for college football -- up the road in Ann Arbor, Mich., Michigan's game with Western Michigan was called in the third quarter after the same storms threatened the Wolverines' campus.
WELCOME BACK: Sophomore receiver Sterling Griffin played for the first time since the 2009 season and had a breakout game, doubling his personal best with eight catches and resetting his personal high of 75 receiving yards. Griffin, who missed the 2010 season after an ankle injury in summer voluntary workouts, had never caught more than four passes in a game, and his previous high for yards came on a single catch for 73 yards in USF's win at Florida State in 2009.
"It meant a lot to me, and meant a lot to my teammates," said Griffin, who returned healthy in spring and earned back a starting job with a strong preseason camp. "The key to tonight's win was staying focused, through all the distractions and all the adversity we had to overcome."
THIS AND THAT: Defensive tackle Elkino Watson was the only true freshman to play, making his debut on USF's second drive. Four Bulls made their first career starts -- guard Danous Estenor, tackle Quinterrius Eatmon, running back Demetris Murray and defensive tackle Keith McCaskill ... USF debuted its new green helmets, wearing white jerseys and green pants. ... For all the talk of USF's depth at linebacker, the Bulls went almost exclusively with their three starters, and Sam Barrington, Michael Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore each had at least nine tackles. Lanaris and Lattimore had huge interceptions on the goal line to thwart Notre Dame drives. ... Holtz's mother, Beth, was recognized on the field during the game as a cancer survivor and in thanks for all of the Holtz family's contributions to Notre Dame. Holtz's father, Lou, didn't attend and was in Connecticut for his role as an ESPN analyst. "They told him he wouldn't have to be on the air when the game was on, so for eight hours," Skip joked. "They probably thought that was a three-hour commitment when they made that to him."