College Football: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Can't Weather USF Bull's Storm

Brian@@IrishChesterCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03:  Michael Floyd #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is hit by Jon Lejiste #8 of the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. South Florida defeated Notre Dame 23-20.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you analyzed Notre Dame's season-opening game against the South Florida Bulls solely by the stats column, you might come to the conclusion that the Irish came on top.

Notre Dame exactly doubled South Florida's yardage output (508 to 254), earned more first downs (27 to 20) and had nearly even time of possession (28:54 to 31:06).

But then your eyes glaze over the two most telling stats of the game: penalties (8 for 73 yards compared to 9 for 43 yards) and turnovers (5 to 0).

Seeing these, it is easy to understand why Irish fans were left heartbroken by the opening 23-20 loss after such high hopes entering the 2011 season.

After taking the opening drive the length of the field over a four-minute span, Jonas Gray was stripped of the ball, and the consequential fumble was returned 96 yards for a touchdown by South Florida's Kayvon Webster.

From there, the rest of the first half was nothing much to write home about, as Notre Dame failed to get on the scoreboard.

Due in large part to the inability to score points, Brian Kelly decided to pull starting senior quarterback Dayne Crist, who had been described by Kelly as having the tools to "start 13 games" for the Irish this season, in favor of sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

If you recall, Rees famously replaced Crist at the end of last season and led the Irish to a 4-0 record as a starter.

In a very similar fashion to last season, Rees mustered a comeback but could not bring the Irish all the way back against the Bulls (he replaced Crist against Tulsa at home in 2010—a game the Irish lost 28-27).

Yesterday, Kelly announced that Rees had passed Crist on the depth chart and earned a start against Michigan. It is not a big surprise when you compare Rees' stats to Crist's. In the first half, Crist went 7 of 15 for 85 yards. In the second half, Rees went 24 of 34 for 296 yards.

What a difference a half makes.

And for many Irish fans, they wish the game had been halved for other reasons. Thanks to a severe storm that rolled through, officials were forced to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium twice, sending the total game time into unparalleled heights at five hours and 59 minutes.

All in all, there are not too many positives to glean from Saturday's performance. Theo Riddick proved ineffective and costly to the Irish in the punt return game (he muffed a kick that was recovered by South Florida and struggled on short-field returns), Ben Turk could not put any height or distance on the ball punting, David Ruffer missed his only field goal attempt, and penalties cost the Irish touchdowns and field position.

On the bright side, senior wide receiver Michael Floyd eclipsed former star Jeff Samarzdija's record (179) for career receptions. Needing only eight to pass "The Shark's" mark, Floyd snagged 12 to put his total at 183. Junior running back Cierre Wood also had a career day with 104 yards rushing.

Defensively, Notre Dame held the Bulls to only one offensive touchdown and held them to 2 of 14 in third-down conversions.

Looking ahead, the Irish have to move past their disappointment and quickly correct mistakes before a historic bout with Michigan this Saturday at 8 p.m. EST in The Big House that will see both teams don throwbacks in homage of Michigan's first-ever home night game.

If history has any sense of repeating itself, here's hoping Rees can replicate his performances last year as a starter subbing for Crist.