SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly didn't even give Jonas Gray a chance to think all was lost after his game-changing fumble on the first drive of what would be the first loss of the 2011 season.
"How do you want to be remembered?" Kelly asked Gray after the game. "As that guy that fumbled on the one-yard line or as that guy in your senior year that bounced back from some adversity and had an incredible season?
"You know what, I think he's going to have a very good season."
That would mean overcoming the fumble-itis that surfaced at the worst possible time this past Saturday. Notre Dame, knocking on the door of the goal line after an efficient opening drive, turned to Gray, its 230-pound bruising tailback, to punch it in from one-yard out on third-and-goal.
South Florida's Jerrell Young jarred the ball out of Gray's hands, Kayvon Webster picked it up at the 4 and the Fighting Irish were facing a 7-0 deficit before the crowd had even settled into its seats.
Said Gray, who has five career fumbles: "There's definitely a bigger chip on my shoulder."
Gray carried the ball just two more times the rest of the day, finishing with a pedestrian four rushes for 17 yards.
He knows more is expected of a senior tasked with providing defenses a different look as the Irish's change-of-pace back.
"It's just playing my game," Gray said. "Playing with confidence, playing with the abilities that I know I have and just going out and just playing my game. Playing for my teammates, playing for this university, playing for my family."
Kelly's confidence in Gray hasn't wavered. After all, he committed just one of the five turnovers and none of the eight penalties that helped doom the Irish in the 23-20 loss.
"He's got to go back out there," Kelly said. "He's got to play for us. He's physically able to do it. Mentally he's got to be able to do it. We're not sitting him down. He's got to play for us against Michigan, and he's got to play for us all year."
For Gray, the seal of approval after a disappointing start to the final season of his collegiate career meant everything. And it's something the Pontiac, Mich., native hopes to live up to in front of at least 20 friends and family members who will be in the Big House Saturday when the Irish take on Michigan.
"It was a bit of a relief that the coach is still behind me," Gray said. "And you can just tell by the way he worded that question, where he wanted me to go, where his direction wanted me to be, and it just means a lot."