#16 Notre Dame Loses Long and Bizarre Opener to South Florida


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Murphy’s law is an epigram typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” And it pretty much summed up the season opener for the #16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as they dropped a 23-20 decision to the South Florida Bulls. USF came in ten point underdogs, despite being a Big East conference favorite by many college football experts.

I guess it’s fitting that a law with an Irish name was in effect for a team nicknamed the Irish. Here are just a few things that went wrong for ND: they turned it over three times inside the USF five yard line; finished the game -5 in turnover differential, had -2 punt return yards, entered the red zone six times, but scored just twice, their kicker who had a perfect season last fall missed a chip shot field goal, and the loss came despite perfectly doubling their opponent yardage (508-254).

However, in spite of all that; the weather was the real story.

The kickoff conditions in South Bend read like this: 93 degree air temperature, 45% humidity, 98 degree heat index. But my halftime the radar maps over the region showed more red than the fans at a Wisconsin Badgers home game. Hotter than usual weather produced especially strong storms. The system created not one but two weather delays.

Prior to today, it is believed that there’s never been a weather delay in the entire history of ND football. There was a two hour, ten minute delay after the first half. The halftime show was cancelled and the fans were ordered to evacuate due to the powerful electrical storm.  The game was suspended again because of weather conditions with 4:21 left in regulation. It seemed extremely fitting of the day that the outcome of the first play after the second weather delay was a Tommy Rees interception.

“And the things that we did today out there obviously go to the heart of how you lose football games.  You lose football games because you turn the ball over.  You lose football games because you miss field goals.  You lose the football game because you have four personal foul penalties.  The list is long,” Coach Brian Kelly said after the game.

Rees (24-34-2 INT, 2 TD) was on in relief of Dayne Crist (7-15-1 INT, O TD) who actually started the day quite effectively as the Irish marched right down the field after the opening kickoff return. However, Jonas Gray fumbled at the four, and Kayvon Webster took it all the way back 96 yards for the touchdown. A potentially 14 point swing is always damaging, but it’s especially damaging when it happens on the exact first drive of the season. And in a season in which many experts believe the Irish have BCS potential.

The other turnovers inside the five consisted of: Crist throwing an interception into the back of the end zone, and Rees tossing a pick at the four. And in a game with a three point margin, it’s easy to single out certain plays. However, it was the compounded errors that made the difference.

“It was the succeeding mistakes,” Kelly said.

“We’re in the red zone ready to put one in and we threw another interception.  It was the accumulation of mistake after mistake after mistake.  It wasn’t that one (Gray’s fumble) particular play.”

In the loss, the Irish did put up some impressive individual numbers on offense. Michael Floyd broke Jeff Samardzjia’s school record for receptions, and tied Golden Tate’s record for 100 yard receiving games by catching 12 for 154 with 2 TDs. Tyler Eifert added 6 catches for 93 yards. Cierre Wood was the first Irish 100 yard rusher since 2009, running for 104 yards on 21 carries. And Rees threw for just about 300 yards in only one half of play, and in a catch-up situation in which his opponent knew he would have to throw.

“He was 24 for 34 in a situation where they knew we were going to throw the football.  I don’t want to put him in that situation.  I want him to have the luxury of a running game which we had established when Dayne was in there.  We just did not complete the circle relative to all the other things that needed to occur,” Kelly said.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports 

He does regular weekly radio spots in Chicago and Cleveland and has appeared on live shows all across the world from Houston to New Zealand. You can follow him on Twitter

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