SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It got sloppy on the field for Notre Dame before the rains ever came.
Before two severe weather delays that stopped the game for a total of nearly three hours Saturday, the No. 16 Fighting Irish hurt themselves with five turnovers - three inside the South Florida 10-yard line - in a 23-20 loss to the Bulls.
Not even a switch in quarterback from struggling Dayne Crist to Tommy Rees after a 2-hour, 10-minute halftime could rescue them.
"Today was probably the strangest game any of us have ever been a part of," said Rees, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards with two TD passes and two interceptions.
Crist had a miserable first half, hitting just 7 of 15 passes and drawing the ire of head coach Brian Kelly on the sidelines. Crist had won a camp competition with Rees to regain his starter's role following his second straight season-ending knee injury a year ago.
"All week, both of us competed and prepared like we were going to play and you just have to keep your head about you during the week and be ready to play," Rees said.
Rees had led the Irish to four straight wins to close last season as a starter, but Kelly chose the more experienced Crist to lead the 2011 Irish. Now he'll have to look at it again.
"We didn't expect to have to make this move, obviously, so it's going to require us to obviously evaluate the quarterback situation and make another decision," Kelly said.
"This was a step back for us as it relates to where we thought we were going. We certainly did not believe or think that we would have to make the decision that we made today."
Kelly also became irate on the sideline after one of Rees' passes hit receiver TJ Jones, went up in the air and was picked off. Kelly got in Jones' face, too.
"You know, we've been down this road before. 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," Kelly said of the mistakes, that also included eight penalties.
"But it looks like we're going to have to make sure that our players are understanding what it takes to win football games."
A 96-yard fumble return by South Florida's Kayvon Webster stopped Notre Dame's game-opening drive, which made it to the 1-yard line before Jonas Gray lost the ball, which bounced into Webster's hands.
Another first-half drive by ND deep into South Florida territory featured a 14-yard Cierre Wood touchdown run that was called back by a holding penalty. That drive ended when Crist was intercepted in the end zone by Devekeyan Lattimore. By the time the first half ended, the first of the thunderstorms had arrived and the Irish found themselves in a 16-0 hole.
"The first half was just a disaster, period," Wood said.
With the crowd getting restless over Notre Dame's erratic play as the teams left the field for halftime, and with lightning flashing near the stadium, officials asked fans to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium and decided to keep the teams in their locker rooms.
The long delay and the weather was not a factor, Kelly said.
"The chaos was on the field for me," he said.
Rees threw an 8-yard TD pass to Michael Floyd to cap a 99-yard drive with 21 seconds left as the Irish closed to 23-20. But USF recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Rees also hit Floyd with a scoring pass in the third quarter and Wood's 1-yard scoring run with 7:35 left made it 23-13 before the Irish failed to convert a 2-point attempt. Floyd, reinstated to the team last month following his suspension for drunken driving, made 12 catches and became the Irish's career leader in receptions, passing Jeff Samardzija (179). Floyd now has 183.