Time is running out on Jonas Gray.
Irish fans wish they could turn back the clock hands. They haven’t had enough time to appreciate his skills. Saturday, Gray will play his second-to-last game in Notre Dame Stadium.
Gray enters the game ranked third nationally in the FBS in rushing average per carry at 8.49. He’s on pace to break George Gipp’s 91-year old school record for yards per carry in a season. His 51 carries have netted 433 yards. Eight of those rushing attempts have accounted for at least 15 yards. Fifteen of his rushes have gone for 10 yards or more. Of his 51 carries, 21 have resulted in a touchdown or a first down.
Gray first caught everyone’s attention the wrong way in the season-opener against South Florida. On his first carry from the Bulls’ one-yard line, the ball was stripped and returned 96 yards for a score.
But it’s those last 50 carries that have left a more lasting impression, which is surprising given the magnitude of his first mistake. Gray did his best job erasing the negativity in week four when his 79-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh helped propel the Irish to a 15-12 victory.
It marked the first of four straight games by Gray with a touchdown after failing to crease the end zone in his first 25 appearances.
“We want a legacy,” Gray said. “I was a guy who did it the right way, who persevered through a lot of things, and I want to just continue to get better every day.”
Earlier this week, Brian Kelly said that Gray has played his way into additional action down the stretch.
“I’m excited,” said Gray of the possibility of increasing his touches over the final six games. “My preparation hasn’t changed. I’m just trying to be consistent and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Gray admits that his belief in himself wavered during the first three years of his career at Notre Dame when he played in just 22 games with 75 carries and a mere 309 yards.
“I thought my confidence started high,” said Gray upon his arrival from Detroit Country Day School, where he rushed for 2,614 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior.
“But after so many years, it started to diminish a little bit. Going out there playing and being successful definitely helps.”
Success has been coming Gray’s way frequently. After rushing for 131 yards in the Michigan and Michigan State games combined, his 79-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh began his touchdown string. He added another 94 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown against Purdue. Two touchdowns and 69 yards against Air Force were followed by a 25-yard touchdown run against USC.
“The confidence came with just doing it and being successful,” Gray said. “But there was also a little bit of doubt after the first three years. The things I was doing wasn’t turning into a lot of playing time, so there was a little bit of doubt.
“But with doubt comes the fact that I needed to do a little extra, so that doubt made me work harder.”
The hard work is paying off. Now it’s time to get more touches.
“Jonas Gray, by his play, warrants more time on the field,” Kelly said.