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Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian is familiar with Pete Kwiatkowski’s defenses.
Kwiatkowski, Sarkisian’s reported choice for UT defensive coordinator, coordinated the Washington defense during the Huskies’ run to the Pac-12 Championship and College Football Playoff in 2016. That playoff run overlapped with one of Alabama’s many playoff runs, and the two programs faced off in the Peach Bowl for a chance to play for the national championship.
Where was Sarkisian during the 2016 season? He was in Tuscaloosa serving as an offensive analyst for Alabama, assisting close friend and then-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin with the Alabama offense.
The analyst role was Sarkisian’s first coaching job after his termination at USC. Analysts typically are involved in scouting opponents in certain game situations. With one opponent to focus on over a four-week period, Sarkisian likely became familiar with Kwiatkowski’s defense.
In the course of a study of Kwiatkowski’s 2016 defense, Sarkisian would have seen a group that held Christian McCaffery and Stanford to six points, freshman quarterback Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks to 21 points, Mike Leach’s Washington State to 17 points, and No. 8 Colorado to 10 points in the Pac-12 Championship.
Kwiatkowski held Alabama to its second-lowest scoring output of the 2016 season during a 24-7 loss in the Peach Bowl. Only Dave Aranda’s LSU defense fared better than Kwiatkowski, holding Alabama to 10 points. Unfortunately for Aranda, the LSU offense scored zero points.
Sarkisian wasn’t calling plays against Kwiatkowski in 2016, though he would take over for Kiffin ahead of the national championship game when the Lane Train departed for FAU. However, this would not have been the first time Sarkisian studied a Kwiatkowski defense.
When Sarkisian left Washington for USC in 2013, Kwiatkowski was part of the staff that moved from Boise to Seattle with Chris Petersen. Sarkisian and Kwiatkowski never coached together but coached against each other several times while both were in the Pacific Northwest.
Boise State topped Washington 28-26 in the 2012 Maaco Bowl before falling to Sarkisian’s Huskies 38-6 in the 2013 season opener. Kwiatkowski took the series in 2015, when the Huskies defeated Sarkisian’s USC Trojans in the LA Coliseum, 17-12. It was Sarkisian’s last game as USC head coach.
Outside of their matchups, Sarkisian also can look at the list of NFL Draft picks Kwiatkowski coached at Washington, many of them recruited to UW by Sarkisian. In the NFL Draft following the 2014 season, four Husky defenders – Danny Shelton, Marcus Peters, Shaq Thompson, and Hau’oli Kikaha – were selected within the first 45 picks. Since Kwiatkowski became Washington’s defensive coordinator, 17 UW defensive players have been selected in the NFL Draft.
Even at Boise State, Kwiatkowski produced several NFL Draft picks including Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
On the recruiting trail, Kwiatkowski is credited as a primary or secondary recruiter by 247Sports for current NFL players Taylor Rapp, Kaleb McGary, Greg Gaines, and Will Dissly.
Kwiatkowski enters a Big 12 Conference known for its offensive innovation. In his career as a defensive coordinator, Kwiatkowski has faced just one Big 12 team. The Huskies suffered a 30-20 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2015 Cactus Bowl during his first season in Seattle.
There will be no acclimation period for Kwiatkowski when he arrives in Austin. He should be afforded spring practices ahead of a difficult Group of 5 test to open the 2021 season in Billy Napier’s Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. That game serves as a lead-in to a matchup in Fayetteville versus Arkansas and their Kendal Briles-led offense.
Sarkisian’s search for a defensive coordinator ranged from a coach down the hall at Alabama in Pete Golding to a division rival in Zach Arnett at Mississippi State. He finally landed on someone he had faced, studied, and seen from his old stomping grounds in Washington.
The hope for Sarkisian is Kwiatkowski can continue to stifle opposing offenses as he did year after year in Washington. That hope is not unfounded. Sarkisian has seen the evidence himself.
(Photo via Abhattarai7/Wikimedia Commons)