SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After a two-hour lightning delay — the first of two weather delays in the game — No. 16 Notre Dame had seized momentum from USF on Saturday, outgaining the Bulls 159-48 in the third quarter and cutting their lead to 16-7.
But after a 30-yard missed field goal, USF got the ball at its 20-yard line late in the quarter, and quarterback B.J. Daniels and running back Demetris Murray gave the Bulls what they needed: a long drive that ended with USF's first offensive touchdown of the game and a 23-7 lead.
"I joked with Coach (Skip) Holtz back in Vero Beach (in preseason camp) that field goals didn't count," said Daniels, who went 18-for-30 for 128 yards in USF's 23-20 win and rushed for 37 despite being slowed by cramps and a hamstring injury in the second half. "We've got to score touchdowns, and that was a drive that we needed to get the ball in the end zone."
USF hadn't had a drive longer than 45 yards in the game, but Daniels led it on a 14-play, 80-yard march that ended with him lobbing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Landi.
The drive allowed USF to keep its defense and the suddenly clicking Irish offense off the field for more than five minutes.
On the drive's second play, Daniels hit his longest pass of the game, 18 yards on second and 16 to receiver A.J. Love, a sixth-year senior playing for the first time in 20 months after missing last season with a knee injury.
Five plays later, facing third and 10, and having gone 1-for-11 on third-down conversions for the game, Daniels found tight end Andreas Shields for a 12-yard gain to the Notre Dame 30.
Then Murray, who started the game at running back but had just two carries for 5 yards in the first three quarters, found momentum, rushing four times for 28 yards, the last time for 12 yards to the 2.
But the Bulls' drive nearly stalled again. They were flagged for sending 12 men onto the field after a timeout, so instead of third and goal from the 1, it was from the 6. But Daniels' pass into the end zone drew an interference flag on cornerback Gary Gray, setting USF up on the 1.
On the next play, Daniels hesitated, then lobbed a pass straight ahead that Landi caught around a Notre Dame defender as he fell backward for the score.
"It wasn't the look we anticipated," Landi said. "B.J. made a beautiful throw, and all I had to do was catch it, to be honest. I think me and B.J., we kind of click a lot, so I knew where he was going to put it."