Notre Dame Football 2011: Irish Win, but Still Searching for Killer Instinct

Matt MooneyCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Keith Mumphery #25 of the Michigan State Spartans tackles John Goodman #81 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half September 17, 2011 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
John Gress/Getty Images

Despite a winless record and facing a ranked opponent, the Irish last weekend still drew the support of Vegas oddsmakers and their greasy greenbacks rather than traditional thorn-in-the-side Michigan State.

Notre Dame's 31-13 victory should come as no surprise then. This is the type of outcome that happens with a stout run defense, racking up 500 yards of offense and not turning the ball over five times per game. This is the type of outcome that Notre Dame fans expected from their team.

The big question remains as to whether it will be the consistent outcome for the remainder of the season. The Irish have shown more than just flashes of improvement in fundamental areas such as their running game and run defense.

They know they have a gutsy playmaker at quarterback in Tommy Rees, who was less than a minute of competent defense away from etching his name next to historic Notre Dame comeback artists.

But mistakes like John Goodman's fourth quarter muffed punt return are the boneheaded lapses that keep the Irish out of the discussion of the legitimate forces in college football. Even with turnovers aside, Notre Dame still did not take the opportunity to put the game out of reach with only three points and less than 60 yards of offense in the last 24:30 of the game.

Those are the habits that the team will need to break if it expects to escape the 2011 season with less than four losses. In their place, the Irish need to find that killer instinct that hasn't been seen with any regularity in South Bend for close to two decades.

That is the type of attitude that makes a team feared and respected, the ability to produce the big fourth quarter play rather than the head-slapping error. The ability to impose its will in the trenches even when the opposition knows a running play is coming.

Head coach Brian Kelly and his players expect this of themselves as much as the fans expect it of them. The players know how costly turnovers are and yet those goofs still persist at the worst times.

How to fix that problem? Winning cures (most) ills, and now that Notre Dame has one under its belt, perhaps greater healing will follow.