One of the earliest confirmations of Steve Sarkisian’s time with the Texas Longhorns were his intentions to be his own playcaller.
In fact, in his eight seasons as a head coach Steve Sarkisian was the primary playcaller in seven of those years, outside of his duties as the offensive coordinator for the USC Trojans and Alabama Crimson Tide. Which is part of the appeal of the hire by Texas — bringing in the offensive mind that has been at the helm of several cutting-edge offenses.
It’s hard to entirely base an assessment of Sarkisian on his most recent work, as the last two Alabama offenses were two of the most-efficient and effective offenses in recent memory.
However, since the 2007 season Sarkisian has been at the helm of 10 college offenses, the gap in his resume coming from 2015-2019. In 2015, he handed off playcalling duties to Clay Helton, then spent a year as an offensive analyst at Alabama — which included one game as the interim offensive coordinator — followed by a two-year stint calling plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
At every stop, Sarkisian has found balance on offense, giving a slight edge to running over passing. In all but the 2009 season, his first as the head coach of the Washington Huskies, the Sarkisian offense ran the ball more than 50 percent of the time. Even in that outlier season the offense only dipped slightly below that threshold, falling to 49.6 percent.
It’s worth noting that the 2009 season was also a marked improvement over his predecessor at Washington in every way, immediately taking the Huskies from an 0-12 season to 5-7.
The results of Sarkisian’s offensive gameplan thrive on efficiency, in spite of some gaudy numbers as of late.
During the aforementioned Sarkisian sample size, his offenses averaged 71.9 plays per game, a number which would tie for No. 65 — exactly in the middle — among Division I teams for the 2020-21 season. While running those plays, the offenses averaged .474 points per play, good enough to land in the top-25 offenses in the country every year dating back to 2005. These offenses steadily move the ball down the field, accounting for 6.37 yards per play, which would have been a top-30 offense in 2020.
But when push comes to shove an offense’s job is to score, which Sarkisian did fairly well with offensive talent like he is inheriting at Texas.
It’s so difficult to compare to the last two groups at Alabama because those offenses boast two of the three highest points-per-drive totals of all time. However, in seven out of the 10 seasons Sarkisian has been a play caller at the NCAA level, his offenses have been in the top 30 in the country. The only three seasons that missed the mark were his first two seasons at Washington — where he still managed to win 13 games in spite of the offensive struggles — and the 2012 season which featured a complete staff overhaul from the prior season.
Sarkisian himself said that he doesn’t anticipate the path to success being a long one, especially given the talent he inherits from the previous staff.
If he and his coaches are able to maximize the offensive skill — featuring 12 skill players with a rating of 90 or higher according to the 247Sports composite — the Texas offense will see itself in a positive position moving forward.
Almost certainly not on the level of his two Alabama offenses, but with the capability of moving the Texas offense into the elite sphere that predecessor Tom Herman was never able to achieve.