Tommy Tremble

Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Virginia Tech on Nov. 2, 2019. He recorded three catches for 60 yards in Notre Dame’s 52-0 win over South Florida on Saturday. As part of Notre Dame’s COVID-19 safety protocols, photojournalists were not allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.

Tommy Tremble transformed his body and mindset so much that he's now earning reps at fullback for Notre Dame.

The junior tight end moved to the position for a few plays while the No. 7 Irish clobbered South Florida 52-0 on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish had previously employed Tremble in a variety of ways, but never as a fullback until this season.

At fullback, Tremble sealed the edge while running back Chris Tyree bounced outside for a one-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. Tremble even garnered a carry, rushing for four yards on a third-and-1 to convert for a first down.

The Irish (2-0) worked him at fullback through the offseason, Tremble said. That look required Tremble to become a more physical player. His progress helped make him more than just a receiving option for quarterback Ian Book.

And now he's a featured blocker for this offense, at tight end and fullback.

“Last year I played at like 225 (pounds) the entire season. I was trying my best just to block anything,” the 6-foot-3 Tremble said. “This year I got all the way up to like 252 at the end right before camp.”

Tremble arrived at Notre Dame in June 2018 undersized at his position. As a three-star recruit, he lacked pedigree. Tremble was widely perceived as a slot tight end type — one who could bring value in the passing game but had room to improve as a blocker. He did not see the field as a true freshman.

In preseason camp before last season, Tremble struggled partly because of his tendency to vomit. The Irish coaching staff had to change the way he practiced and hydrate him in a way that prevented water-logging. Tremble bounced back, but he still needed to improve before becoming a true all-purpose tight end.

Against USF (1-1), Tremble’s seismic progress became apparent. He led Notre Dame with three catches for 60 yards, including receptions of 24 and 27 yards. Most of his contributions came as a blocker — a responsibility he now embraces.

"I promise you, it feels just as good,” said Tremble on how a great block feels compared to a long reception. “I love doing it."

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees continued to involve multiple tight ends. And all five tight ends — senior Brock Wright, juniors George Tackacs and Tremble and freshmen Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman — received work.

The Irish used personnel groupings of 12 (one running back, two tight ends) and 13 (one running back, three tight ends) a healthy amount. Running plays often went through Tremble as a lead blocker or after he sealed off a defender.

“The tight ends were integral as you can see by our formation sets,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We are in 12- and 13-personnel groupings. So Tremble and Brock and Mike Mayer, and even George Takacs. Bauman is not playing a lot, but he's going to play. We are really deep there and those guys are huge contributors to what we are doing at that position and running the football.”

Notre Dame started the game in 13 personnel, pairing running back Kyren Williams with Tremble, Mayer and Wright. The first drive featured at least two tight ends on the field every play. Mayer and Bauman each caught a pass for five yards.

"Every one of our guys have different skill sets,” Tremble said. “Each one of those skill sets come into motion when we have those 13 and 12 personnels. We all can block downhill, hard blocking and the next thing you know, we'll beat you over the top too with speed — every one of our guys. Having that versatility is amazing."

Versatility can now be a trait that's associated with Tremble. He’s not a one-dimensional tight end anymore. He’s not just out there to catch passes. He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and drive a defender backward, even if that comes from the fullback position.

“Honestly, I just love contact,” Tremble said. “I love playing the game of football. It's just pure passion for me. Every time I'm out on the field, I want to just be dominant. I try my best to."

Freshmen firsts

Notre Dame announced before the game that eight players would not be available for unspecified reasons.

Safety Kyle Hamilton likely did not play because of the ankle injury he suffered against Duke last week. Starting cornerback TaRiq Bracy, backup quarterback Brendon Clark, co-starting buck linebackers Marist Liufau and Shayne Simon, backup slot receiver Lawrence Keys III, third-team defensive end Ovie Oghoufo and reserve running back Jahmir Smith also were ruled out.

The blowout and a reduced roster helped several true freshmen achieve plenty of firsts.

Quarterback Drew Pyne, wide receivers Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts, Bauman, cornerbacks Ramon Henderson and Caleb Offord, defensive linemen Rylie Mills, Alexander Ehrensberger, Jordan Botelho and Aidan Keanaaina and long snapper Alex Peitsch are all true freshmen who played their first career game against USF.

Botelho and Lewis shined the most among the group. Botelho returned a punt blocked by linebacker Osita Ekwonu one yard for a touchdown. Lewis recorded a game-high three pass breakups, along with five tackles and a tackle for a loss.

The Irish listed Lewis and Bracy as co-starters on their week one depth chart. Lewis did not see the field in game one, but he started against USF.

“Yeah, obviously you can see he's not hurried,” Kelly said. “His movements are very fluid. Plays the ball very well. His timing is excellent. He's got all of the tools and the traits that you want in an outstanding corner. I just think that he's got a really bright future.

“We feel good with him out there on the field. I think there were a couple of times where we might have wanted him to tighten up his coverage a little bit to the field. I think (cornerbacks coach) Mike (Mickens) talked to him a couple times about his ankle on tackling. But he's a smooth player and a very confident player.”

Pyne replaced starter Ian Book for Notre Dame’s second series of the second half. The New Canaan (Conn.) High product completed 1-of-2 passes for five yards and turned one carry into four yards.

“We gave him a couple of tough looks in the passing game where he didn't have much of a look there in terms of being able to throw it,” Kelly said, “but we really like Drew, and he'll be fine. He's smart. He works hard in all of the meetings, and he's always well prepared.”

Bauman recorded his first reception, a five-yard pass from Pyne. Ehrensberger registered his first sack on a third down. The Düsseldorf (Germany) Theodor-Fliedner-Gymnasium product flashed off the edge despite working as a scout team nose guard, Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s first of two penalties on the game came via a personal foul from Johnson. The former five-star recruit received an earful from Kelly on the sideline after that blunder.

Clemson comparison

USF head football coach Jeff Scott knew plenty about Notre Dame and Kelly prior to Saturday’s game.

Scott had already faced them twice. He served as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator when the Tigers defeated the Irish in 2015 (24-22) and 2018 (30-3). Notre Dame will host Clemson (2-0) in a highly anticipated matchup on Nov. 14.

How does Scott think the Irish will fare against the Tigers? He said this is their best team under Kelly.

“I felt like I was playing Clemson out there for a majority of the day, just in gold helmets,” Scott said.

Olmstead lands at Lafayette

Sophomore offensive lineman John Olmstead announced on Friday that he will transfer from Notre Dame to Lafayette, an FCS program in Easton, Pa., that is part of the Patriot League.

Olmstead announced last month that he would be leaving the Irish. The former four-star recruit signed to Notre Dame’s 2019 class but did not see the field as a true freshman.

Rivals ranked Olmstead as its No. 15 offensive tackle and No. 118 overall player in the class, while 247Sports pegged him No. 35 at the position and No. 377 overall.

Squibs

• Notre Dame extended its home winning streak to 20 games, breaking the school's modern record (19 from 1987-90).

• The Irish defense now has four shutouts under Kelly, the most for any ND coach since Lou Holtz. Under Kelly, Notre Dame also blanked Wake Forest (38-0) in 2012, Michigan (31-0) in 2014 and Bowling Green (52-0) last season.

• The Bulls were held to 65 yards on 21 plays with one first down in the first half.

• Book became Notre Dame's first quarterback in modern history to rush for three touchdowns in a half. He leaped Steve Beuerlein at No. 5 all-time in career passing yards (6,529) for the Irish. He also passed Ron Powlus and Rees in total career yards, becoming No. 3 all-time in school history.

• Safety Shaun Crawford served as captain for the coin toss.

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