SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It took six hours and the first two weather delays in 123 years of Notre Dame football, but USF and coach Skip Holtz made history of their own Saturday night, knocking off No. 16 Notre Dame with a 23-20 win as Holtz returned to his alma mater.
Four times, USF came up with stops inside its 15-yard line without giving up points, including a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Kayvon Webster to set the tone for the game. Notre Dame easily outgained the Bulls, but USF quarterback B.J. Daniels engineered a clutch 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter for a 23-7 lead.
Holtz, who played as a walk-on at Notre Dame in 1986 and returned to coach on his father Lou's staff from 1990-93, became the first Notre Dame graduate since 1940 to come into South Bend and beat the Fighting Irish.
"I think it speaks volumes about these players and the way they have bought in and competed their tails off when so many people on the outside wouldn't believe in them," Holtz said. "They way they stayed poised, calm. There were a lot of opportunities to flinch, but (I'm) really proud of the way they handled themselves."
The Bulls held on despite two momentum-sapping delays, with a two-hour break after USF held a 16-0 halftime lead, then a 45-minute break with less than five minutes left. On the first play back after the second delay, USF senior safety Jerrell Young — who forced the fumble Webster returned — intercepted a pass.
Notre Dame got a late touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to Michael Floyd with 21 seconds left, but USF's Lindsey Lamar recovered the onside kick and the Bulls ran out the final 19 seconds.
"We really wanted this win for the program. We knew Coach Holtz really wanted it," said Young, a Gibbs High graduate. "It's a big step, with Notre Dame and their history and all."
Notre Dame Stadium — with 80,795 fans attending — was completely evacuated twice by school officials due to the weather.
USF, a 10-point underdog, built a 16-0 lead because of three Notre Dame miscues — twice, the Fighting Irish had third-and-goal plays that resulted in turnovers, the first being a fumble stripped by Young that was scooped up and returned 96 yards by Webster. It was the longest defensive play in Bulls history and the longest fumble return ever against Notre Dame.
USF got a 49-yard field goal by Maikon Bonani on its next possession, then settled for three again after Terrence Mitchell returned a punt 34 yards. When Notre Dame looked to score again, quarterback Dayne Crist had a pass intercepted by linebacker DeDe Lattimore in the end zone to thwart another drive. After one quarter, USF led 13-0 despite having been outgained 152-62.
The Bulls got another break in the second quarter when Theo Riddick fumbled a punt return and USF's Victor Marc recovered on the Notre Dame 19-yard line, setting up Bonani's third field goal.
Notre Dame outgained the Bulls 508-254, with Floyd catching 12 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Another was called back by a holding penalty, and five plays later, Lattimore got his pick.
And while the weather delay was historic for Notre Dame, so too was the upset for Holtz. The last time a Notre Dame graduate beat the Irish in South Bend was 71 years ago when Iowa coach Eddie Anderson — who played with the legendary George Gipp in South Bend — pulled it off.
"It is great to come back to a university that has meant so much to me and so much to my family," Holtz said. "I have great respect for this university and institution, but I'm really proud of South Florida and the way these young men came in here and competed. It's a step in the right direction for us."
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346.