By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - USF defensive coaches emphasized it all camp - scratch, claw, go the extra mile to get turnovers.
If the Bulls didn't get enough during practices they even had to run the extra mile afterwards.
USF probably won't be running too much Sunday night after what it did against No. 16 Notre Dame on Saturday. The defense snatched up four turnovers, with a fifth coming on special teams, in a 23-20 victory hours after many critics didn't give the Bulls a chance, saying the Irish had too many weapons on offense to lose.
It all started with a strip.
Notre Dame needed only seven plays to zoom down the field from its own 20 to the USF 1 on the first drive of the game. USF senior safety Jerrell Young met backpeddling Jonas Gray at the 4 and saw a chance for a momentum killer.
"I put my hand down, I felt the ball and I just ripped it and it came out," Young said.
Just like cornerback Kayvon Webster had done so many times during drills, the junior scooped up the loose ball in stride and jetted 96 yards for a score.
"Kayvon did a good job of just picking it up on the bounce and taking it all the way," Young said.
No defensive player had gone that far on a score against Notre Dame in its 123 years of football and the Irish crowd was left with a "what just happened?" moment.
"You look up and they've had the ball and had driven the whole length of the field probably at about 15 yards a clip," USF head coach Skip Holtz said. "You look up and you're winning 7-0, kind of a good feeling. It kind of symbolized a little bit of the day."
More like a lot of the day and night in what turned out to be 5 hour, 59-minute marathon with two long weather delays mixed in.
USF's next big theft came in the second quarter with Notre Dame knocking on the door at the Bulls' 7-yard line. Irish quarterback Dayne Crist tried to sneak a pass in the end zone but linebacker DeDe Lattimore put a stop to it with an interception that preserved a 13-0 lead.
Notre Dame decided to try and change its luck in the second half by replacing Crist with Tommy Rees, but the red zone proved to be a dead zone again. The teams took the field again after a 2 hour, 10 minute delay and linebacker Michael Lanaris, who has worked on hands drills since camp back in Vero Beach, looked smooth intercepting a ball on USF's own 5.
Young got into the act again at a time that mattered the most.
Notre Dame had the ball after a 43-minute delay in the fourth quarter down 23-13 with just over four minutes to go. Get a score and you have enough time to steal a victory before the final whistle.
That never happened because Young intercepted USF's third pass of the day, which allowed the Bulls' offense to take almost two minutes off the clock.
Notre Dame managed to score a touchdown inside the final minute but came up empty afterwards on an onsides kick attempt.
Mission accomplished for a USF defense that worked on red zone situations countless times when the scoreboard was far from being lit.
After the scoreboard shut down Saturday night, the Irish were left wondering where it all went wrong. They racked up 508 yards of offense and receiver Michael Floyd, arguably Notre Dame's top threat, had 154 of those yards on 12 catches.
"I think he is one of the special players in college football," Holtz said. "Because of him we just turned and said, 'Let's try to make sure we keep him in front of us.' "
The game plan might not have gone perfectly but it allowed USF to have an edge in the stat that matters the most - the final score.