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Notre Dame Football

Exciting Possibilities for Notre Dame with "Big Dime"

April 5, 2023

One practice is one practice. We can get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of personnel with the one practice we watched on Saturday, but not a full picture. It’s why no one should overreact one way or another from what we saw.

In saying that, it can’t be denied that Notre Dame’s defense looked good when working on sub-packages in practice on Saturday. The main personnel grouping they were working on was Dime or “Big Dime”.

Dime means six defensive backs on the field and the reason it can be classified as “Big Dime” is that they played with three safeties.

This shouldn’t be too foreign for Notre Dame fans. The 2019 defense that featured Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott, and Kyle Hamilton ran “Big Dime” as their main 3rd down package. They finished 19th in the country in 3rd down conversion percentage that season and were fifth in opponent passer rating on 3rd down giving up only 4.7 yards per attempt. They only allowed opposing passers to complete 45.6% of their passes.

We also saw some of it with Golden last season as well. The North Carolina and South Carolina games were where we saw it most and it’s something that Lou Anarumo, the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, ran a ton of as well (as Matt Freeman pointed out in his Sunday Reflections).

There’s no doubt that Golden can take a lot of what the Bengals did and apply it to his defense at Notre Dame.

For the practice on Saturday, Notre Dame had Jaden Mickey, Benjamin Morrison, and Clarence Lewis (nickel) in at corner in their “Big Dime”. The three safeties were DJ Brown, Ramon Henderson, and Xavier Watts. JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau were in at linebacker and Howard Cross, Jordan Botelho, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste were the defensive linemen up front.

Listing them that way is a bit misleading, though. Liufau was more or less an edge defender with this grouping. Brown was often lined up in a linebacker alignment or mugged up on an offensive lineman on the line of scrimmage.

“Big Dime” is such a difficult defense to prepare for because there are so many things that an offense has to worry about. Sometimes they may line up six or seven defenders near the line of scrimmage. Defenders may attack from all angles and from different depths and it’s really difficult for protections to handle all of that.

This is Cincinnati in “Big Dime” and they have eight potential pass rush threats at the snap of the football. They rush six and end up overloading the right side of the formation with safety Vonn Bell (24) getting the sack.


In practice on Saturday, that was DJ Brown playing that role.

Here’s another situation against the Carolina Panthers where Cincinnati is using the same personnel and just the threat of all of those at the line of scrimmage has the protection confused. They end up rushing the three defensive linemen and that’s it, but both the ends win because the line is too worried about the threat of the blitz inside.


It doesn’t always have to look like that, though. This is Notre Dame in “Big Dime” in the Gator Bowl against South Carolina. They only have four on the line, but they have Jordan Botelho and linebacker Jaylen Sneed on the edge and Howard Cross and Justin Ademilola (lined up as a 3-tech inside).


They are running an E-T stunt with Ademilola and Sneed, but also bringing Xavier Watts (26) and JD Bertrand (27) from depth. Bertand does a fantastic job bluffing before the snap and then is able to get in free for a hit on the quarterback even though the back was supposed to pick him up. It almost led to a pick by Brown.


This is also from the Gator Bowl in “Big Dime” with Watts as robber player over the middle of the field and the two linebackers, Liufau and Bertrand, mugged up on the guards. They are running a game inside and while the line is preoccupied with that, Botelho ends up getting a match up running back that ends up as a sack for the Irish.


This is back from the North Carolina game and it’s only four up on the line, but with Liufau lined up as a 3-tech and this essentially is a T-T stunt where he blows up the quarterback draw.


There are so many possibilities with pressure and coverage with this personnel grouping and I believe Notre Dame has the right personnel to take full advantage of it this season.

On Saturday, we saw Botelho lined up outside shade of a guard and he came up with a sack. We saw Liufau on the edge working an E-T stunt with Cross that saw Cross loop around for another sack. We saw numerous plays where pressure disrupted the offense and we didn’t even get a chance to see Thomas Harper (not doing contact as he recovers from shoulder surgery) or Sneed (out for the practice) who have the potential to be factors in “Big Dime”.

Notre Dame finished 49th in 3rd down defense last year and it really came down to two games where they struggled. Ohio State was 7 of 13 on 3rd down and USC of 8 of 12. Facing those teams in 2023 as well as what should be a pass-happy Louisville team means that the “Big Dime” has a chance to be one of the most important pieces of their defense so it makes sense that they are already working it this spring.

The Irish have a lot hybrid players who can fill a lot of different roles within the defense and this sub-package should give them a chance to shine this fall.

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