SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- To call it the perfect storm is not a reference to the lightning that flashed overhead, the first forced evacuations of Notre Dame Stadium in history or the two weather-related delays totaling 2 hours, 53 minutes that sent fans milling around concourses and seeking shelter in nearby campus buildings while awaiting the resumption of their worst-case scenario.
This was an unexpected, late-summer squall of gaffes that was never in Brian Kelly's forecast. The Notre Dame coach has repeatedly said this was the most focused and prepared team he had ever coached, only to watch them make inexplicable mistakes all over the field during a 23-20 loss that drenched the optimism surrounding the 16th-ranked Irish.
Eight penalties, three interceptions, a fumble returned for a touchdown and a muffed punt helped make a winner out of Skip Holtz, the South Florida coach who played and coached for Notre Dame, and whose famous father led the program to its last national championship. The miscues erased Notre Dame's statistical domination and left Kelly searching for answers.
"We've been down this road before," Kelly said. "The disappointing thing is that we thought going into a year where we had some experience that we wouldn't have to go through this. But it looks like we're going to have to make sure that our players understand what it takes to win football games."
Most troubling was that the mudslide of mistakes were made not by inexperienced players but some of the most seasoned veterans on the roster.
First it was senior Jonas Gray being stripped near the goal line on the first series of the game, resulting in Kayvon Webster's 96-yard touchdown return. There were four personal fouls called against the Irish. Dayne Crist threw an interception in the end zone before being replaced by Tommy Rees with the Irish trailing 16-0 at halftime.
Back-to-back facemask penalties on safety Harrison Smith, a team captain making his 35th career start, set up one Bulls field goal. Theo Riddick muffed a punt and David Ruffer, who converted 23 straight field goals last season, missed a 30-yarder.
"Everybody is not perfect," said running back Cierre Wood, who rushed for 110 yards. "Everybody has those days. It's just that everybody had that day today."
Rees gave Notre Dame chance by completing 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half. Most of his passes went to Michael Floyd, who finished with 12 catches for 154 yards and 2 scores. Rees also threw two interceptions, although receiver TJ Jones appeared responsible for the first when he didn't see the ball coming and it deflected off his shoulder pad.
Notre Dame Stadium was evacuated at halftime because of a severe thunderstorm watch and lightning, and the game was not resumed for 2 hours, 10 minutes. A second weather-related stoppage with 4:31 left lasted 43 minutes and sent fans scurrying for the exits one again before play was resumed.
"Today was the strangest day any of us have ever been a part of," Rees said.