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When Texas hired Pete Kwiatkowski, it was a bit of a shock. The long-time Washington defensive coordinator had never left the pacific northwest, previously being at Boise State and Montana State. Coming down to the south was a new step in his football career.
“I never thought I would sweat as much as I do,” Kwiatkowski joked during his media availability on Wednesday.
From a football perspective, it will be like nothing he has faced before. The Pac-12 has its great offensive minds, but nothing like Texas’ opponents will have going forward.
“I just wanted a challenge. I’m looking forward to the challenge of defending these Big 12 offenses.”
Quite the challenge he has indeed. Half of the conference averaged at least 30 points a game last season, with Texas Tech falling just short at 29.1 points. Even teams who may not be considered great offenses in the Big 12 find ways to put up giant numbers.
Kwiatkowski’s defenses dominated the Pac-12 during his seven seasons in charge. Washington’s scoring defense was always one of the best in the country, giving up less than 20 points a game in five consecutive seasons.
His first year in charge (24.5 points per game) and this past season (25.0 points per game) were the only two to go over.
When asked if he has to change his definition of success is in the Big 12 because of the high-powered offenses, Kwiatkowski said “I don’t know. Ask me at the end of the year,” followed by a laugh.
“Our goal is to keep offenses under 20 points, that’s our goal. It might be a high goal, but that is our goal.”
Since the conference became what we know it in 2012, only three defenses have held opponents to under 20 points a game. TCU twice (2014, 2017) and Baylor once (2019). To accomplish his goal, Kwiatkowski would have to put out one of the Big 12’s all-time defenses.
Even if expectations are not met, and Texas is putting up wins, Kwiatkowski will not care. A trusty Steve Sarkisian gadget can help make up some of the extra points given up on a weekly basis.
“At the end of the day, if we have one more point than them, we got to enjoy it and be happy about it even if we did not play as well as we wanted to.”
Ten days into fall camp and Kwiatkowski says there is still room for improvement within the unit. Something that seems common theme throughout the Texas coaching staff: never being satisfied until near perfection.
“Getting better at tackling. Our conditioning, being able to play four quarters in a day game out under the sun. Continuing building depth.”
Of the three, getting better at tackling would be the most eye-opening to Texas fans after suffering through Todd Orlando’s tenure.
Being able to play for four quarters stands out as a difference from the Tom Herman era, though.
At the end of the games over the past few seasons, Texas was never able to put opponents away. Close games after being ahead or playing down to competition throughout the entire game were common.
Washington gave up an average of 3.1 points in the fourth quarter during the 2019 season. Kwiatkowski knows how big of a weapon a conditioned, talented defense can be late in games. You may as well start playing Enter Sandman at Yankee Stadium.
But the entire body of work will be just as important. Games are not won and lost in the final period. “Being able to play all four quarters” could have been the entire quote and still rung true.
Especially with early-season tests. A ranked matchup against Louisiana will follow an SEC game against Arkansas before opening Big 12 play with Texas Tech, TCU, and Oklahoma.
Those five teams alone put up 32.4 points per game last season.
Kwiatkowski’s lofty expectations could be the difference between a much needed 5-0 start or a disappointing 3-2.