By TOM MOOR
South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
11:48 PM EDT, September 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND - For Skip Holtz, it was always about his team, not about his return.
The South Florida second-year coach did his very best to deflect what Saturday’s win against his alma mater, Notre Dame, meant to him.
But pressed enough during a postgame news conference, Holtz called his team’s 23-20 victory over Notre Dame an “emotional” one, which came in front of several family members.
Holtz was an assistant for his father, Lou Holtz, from 1990-93 at Notre Dame. The elder Holtz did not attend the game, and instead elected to work in the studio for ESPN.
“This game wasn’t about me - that would be selfish,” Holtz said. “This is a big win for our program. Our players weren’t even born when I was here. I wasn’t going to make it about me. I talked to them about the opportunity that we can build on.
“They said, ‘We got your back, we love you, thank you, we appreciate you,’” Holtz continued. “But it was never about me.”
Holtz added Saturday’s six-hour marathon win was “huge” for a program started just 13 years ago.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this football team,” he said.
Notre Dame, though, will always be a special place for Holtz, who talked about Notre Dame's unique tradition, and how he visited the Grotto during his return this weekend.
“I lit a candle,” he said. “I always would light candles at the Grotto. That’s how I got through college.
“There were a lot of emotional moments for me. But my job and my role was supporting this group of young men out there.”
South Florida cornerback Kayvon Webster played a pivotal role in holding the Irish scoreless in the first half.
The junior from Opa Locka, Fla., made not one, but two key plays near the end zone to deny the Irish in two of their first four drives.
The biggest, perhaps, came on the first possession of the game, when Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray fumbled at the South Florida 4 after Bulls’ free safety Jerrell Young jarred the ball away. Webster scooped it up and sprinted 96 yards untouched to give the Bulls a 6-0 lead.
“It was huge,” Holtz said.
He struck again early in the second quarter. With Notre Dame threatening to score its first touchdown, trailing 13-0, Webster batted away a pass from Dayne Crist to T.J. Jones at the last second in the end zone. Crist’s next pass was intercepted in the end zone.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said it was “one mistake after another,” not just Webster’s touchdown, that caused the Irish problems.
Holtz said one of the keys to his team’s success Saturday was winning the turnover battle.
The Irish threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles; the Bulls had no turnovers.
“We capitalized on a couple of those,” Holtz said. “We were able to take points off the board for them.”
An Irish drive was also halted deep in Irish territory when Michael Lanaris intercepted Tommy Rees early in the third quarter. The Irish had driven all the way to the 5.
South Florida junior kicker Maikon Bonani tied his career long field goal when he booted a 49-yarder with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter. Bonani also connected on attempts of 17 and 36; he missed a 52-yarder. Bonani kicked a 49-yarder in 2008 against Cincinnati. … Bulls’ linebacker DeDe Lattimore’s interception of Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist in the end zone was the first of his career. Lattimore’s pick came on third down with the Irish at the Bulls’ 7. He added nine tackles.
South Florida improved to 11-4 in season openers since the program began play in 1997. The 11 victories came at home with the four losses coming on the road. Saturday’s opener was the first time since 2005 the Bulls have opened on the road. … USF coach Skip Holtz was one of 22 head coaches that took over FBS programs last year. Of those 22, only five produced at least eight victories and one of four led their teams to a bowl victory. ND coach Brian Kelly also belongs to that group. … USF has appeared in bowl games five consecutive seasons and won at least eight games in those five seasons. Only 10 FBS teams have posted at least eight wins during that stretch. In addition to USF, that list includes Florida, LSU, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, USC, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. … South Florida improved to 33-28 in true road games during its 14-year history. The Bulls went 3-2 in 2010 in road games. Over the past four years (2007-10), the Bulls are 16-12 in road games.
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