Choosing aggression: Miami’s on-field offensive ‘DNA’ won’t hold back. Temple is next

David Santiago/

Nearly four games into the college football season, the University of Miami’s offense is almost unrecognizable from 2022.

Is it too soon for Hurricanes fans, who suffered through some nasty national numbers in 2022, to get giddy every time the Canes have the ball? One thing that has become evident: New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will choose aggression at nearly every opportunity.

“It’s paramount. It’s a DNA, it’s a trait,’’ UM coach Mario Cristobal said this week when asked about Dawson’s penchant to “go for the jugular” while facing an opponent such as then-No. 23 Texas A&M, which UM defeated 48-33.

“Those positions require a guy that’s a true leader, a guy that has confidence in what he can bring to the table and instills confidence to the players in the system. And he does an awesome job of that — especially in games like that. You’re not gonna take the air out of the ball. You’re going to have to keep scoring and whatnot. There’s no flinch, there’s no hesitation in his play-calling.”

No. 20 UM (3-0) travels to former Big East foe Temple (2-1) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) for its first road game this season, and intends to do what is required to stay humming. Heavy rain is forecast, with temperatures starting in the low 60s and winds gusting from 20- to 40-mph that will obviously affect the play-calling.

The Hurricanes are 15th nationally in total offense of 130 FBS teams, averaging 511 yards a game. Last season, the Canes finished 85th (367).

UM is 13th in passing offense (322 yards a game), 37th in rushing (189) and 11th in scoring offense (44.7 points a game), the gold standard for any team. Last year, UM finished 97th in scoring with a paltry 23 points a game.

Entering the week, starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke — protected by a dominant offensive line — was seventh nationally in passing efficiency (200.6), 14th in passing touchdowns (eight), 21st in passing yards per completion (14.4), 26th in passing yards per game (274) and 28th in passing yards (822).

Van Dyke’s receivers are dominant and the running backs are happily and productively taking turns under the direction of Dawson. Receiver Jacolby George is sixth nationally with four receiving touchdowns, and slot man Xavier Restrepo is 15th with 104.7 receiving yards per game.

‘Talented group’

“You’re going against a very talented group,’’ Temple coach Stan Drayton said this week of the test his defensive backs will have Saturday. “They bring speed and good route-running ability. They do a phenomenal job with their scheme. The quarterback is the real deal — he can get them the football on time. It’s going to be a matter of staying disciplined with their eyes and believing in themselves.

“If they do what they’re capable of doing, it should be a good competition out there on the perimeter.”

Van Dyke said after UM’s latest win against Bethune-Cookman that the offensive success has hinged on players trusting Dawson and how he wants the plays run.

“We’ve been doing a great job of executing,’’ Van Dyke said, “and that’s what it’s all about.’’

When told that people around the country are noticing the change in UM’s offense, Dawson said that the thought “of trying to win a game is kind of mind-boggling at times.”

“You attack to the end. Our kids have put in a lot of work. It’s showing on the field. We’ve got to put blinders on and just keep getting one week better.”

Dawson said UM coaches stress “getting up the field.’’

“Something that’s been unique to our offense from my lifetime has been...when the ball is coming to you and hits your hands. We stress getting vertical — getting up the field, drop-step, get vertical. It’s all one movement and it’s stressed hard.”

“...To me, they have to have a clear understanding of what to do with the ball when it hits your hands immediately. I think a lot of people lose sight of that. We stress it hard. We drill it.

“Very proud of where they’re at right now, but we all know how that can change, too, if you let distractions seep in.’’

Temple defense

This week, the Owls’ defense was 54th nationally, allowing 323.7 yards a game — 171 through the air (22nd nationally) and 152.7 on the ground (94th). Temple, which finished 3-9 last season under then-new coach Dtan Drayton, opened the season with a 24-21 win at home over Akron, lost its second game 36-7 at Rutgers and defeated Norfolk State 41-9 on Saturday.

Offensively, the Owls are No. 66th overall, averaging 394 yards a game -- 139.7 rushing (84th nationally) and 254.7 through the air (52nd). But quarterback E.J. Warner, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Kurt Warner, can be a weapon. A true sophomore, Warner was the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year last season, with his 2,028 passing yards second most in Temple history.

Miami starting left guard Javion Cohen, a fourth-year junior transfer out of Alabama, said his road-game advice to younger players would be, “Come with the same enthusiasm you have at home.’’

“On the road, you generally want the stadium to be empty by the fourth quarter,’’ Cohen said, before adding: “Never leave your running game at home. So, bring that with you.’’

The Owls, which, like the Hurricanes, play in an NFL stadium, drew an announced crowd of 12,456 in its opener and 10,932 last week against Norfolk State.

“Create your own energy on the sideline and go from there,’’ senior nickelback Te’Cory Couch said.

Tight end Cam McCormick, the oldest Cane at 25, has been to plenty of road games. His advice to freshmen: “It’s another game to play football. It’s another day to be great. Go have fun. Soak all of it in pregame, but the first snap, it’s time to go.”