Steve Sarkisian’s contribution to Alabama’s national championship has Texas fans as giddy as Bevo at supper time. They see what Sarkisian did to Ohio State Monday night as Crimson Tide offensive coordinator, and figure he will do that to the Big 12 Conference as the Longhorns’ next head coach.
I understand the anticipation.
Alabama’s passing game was Lincoln Riley-clever and even more precise. It made synchronous use of a sharp, talented quarterback, a powerful, multifaceted running back and the best college wide receiver since Larry Fitzgerald was at Pitt.
Sarkisian showed a deep mind and a great feel for the game Monday night. Assuming that translates at Texas, it will represent a step up from Tom Herman, who had the mind to make things happen in Austin the past four years but fell bizarrely short on the implementation.
Sarkisisan’s quarterback development should also translate.
He brought along Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez as USC quarterbacks coach and then as Trojans offensive coordinator in the 2000s. After becoming Washington’s head coach in 2009, Sarkisian tutored Jake Locker and helped lesser-hyped quarterback Keith Price put up big numbers.
We just saw what Sarkisian did with Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones the last two years as Alabama play-caller.
Herman turned Sam Ehlinger into an effective pocket passer, but Sarkisian with Ehlinger’s heir, whether Casey Thompson or Hudson Card, should be much more lucrative for the Longhorns.
Here, though, is where we slow Sarkisian’s roll from Tuscaloosa to Austin.
“You’ve to give Alabama a lot of credit. They have great players and great scheme and they execute it really well,” Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said after Monday night’s 52-24 mismatch. “They played extremely hard and that’s the result that you see. That’s why the scoreboard was the way that it was...
“What makes them unique is the caliber of players they have.”
Sarkisian is coming to Texas, but he isn’t bringing DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris with him. Players like that can make a coach look 50 IQ points smarter.
The Longhorns aren’t exactly talent starved. Rivals ranked Herman’s 2018 and ’19 recruiting classes No. 4 nationally. Bijan Robinson, the breakout headliner of Texas’ Alamo Bowl thumping of Colorado, is a five-star running back.
But how many plays did you see Texas receivers make last fall? If Ehlinger matured into a productive passer, and his efficiency rating says he did, why was it that the leading Longhorn receiver, wideout Joshua Moore, averaged 47 yards per game?
Sarkisian’s track record with running backs is impressive. Washington backs Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey approached or surpassed the 1,500-yard mark under Sarkisian from 2010-13. He should pair dynamically with Robinson.
Sarkisian’s pairing with a Texas receiving corps whose production plummeted post-Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay and Lil’Jordan Humphrey is less certain. Sparks can fly – Sarkisian’s USC and Washington offenses moved the ball with hardly any 1,000-yard receivers – but this is more a leap of faith.
Sarkisian’s pairing with Texas’ offensive line might key the whole transition.
The quarterbacks in Sarkisian’s 2007-08 USC offenses had time to throw. So did Jones and Tagovailoa the past two years.
Locker and Price? Not so much. Washington ranked an average of No. 84 nationally in sacks allowed with Sarkisian as head coach. That helped make the Huskies wildly inconsistent offensively, which helped tag Sarkisian with a 34-29 record over his five years in Seattle.
Sarkisian will have better players at Texas than he coached at Washington, but consider that the Longhorns ranked an average of No. 84 in sacks allowed the past four years under Herman.
When Sarkisian breaks into his first position meetings, he should go from quarterbacks directly to linemen and make sure the heavyweights know he can’t succeed without their help.
Borland is right. It is the caliber of players. It is also the performance of the players.
While Sarkisian was brilliant Monday night against Ohio State, so were the Crimson Tide. If he is to be brilliant at Texas, his Longhorns must follow suit.
That is a great unknown.
Video: Emig and Haisten on CFP title game, and much more