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, went through exactly that only three weeks ago in Vero Beach.
Severe lightning prompted Notre Dame officials to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium, with a capacity crowd of 80,795 leaving for the shelter of nearby buildings including the Joyce Center basketball arena next door. Both teams were sequestered to their locker rooms.
After extensive rains and continued lightning 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, another weather delay suspended play for 43 minutes. By the time the game resumed, the broadcast had moved from NBC to Versus, which NBC owns.
Somehow, the Bulls had been there before, having had their first scrimmage of the preseason stopped twice by lightning as the team trained 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, S Jerrell Young intercepted Rees, the fifth and final Fighting Irish turnover.
WELCOME BACK: Sophomore WR 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 missed the 2010 season after an ankle injury.
"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.
THIS AND THAT: DT Elkino Watson was the only true freshman to play, debuting on USF's second drive. Four Bulls made their first career starts — G Danous Estenor, OT Quinterrius Eatmon, RB Demetris Murray and DT Keith McCaskill … USF debuted its new green helmets, wearing white jerseys and green pants. … 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."