After taking an official visit on the Forty Acres, former Arizona Wildcats defensive tackle Tiaoalii Savea signed with the Texas Longhorns on Tuesday, re-joining co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Johnny Nansen, who recruited Savea to the UCLA Bruins in the 2021 recruiting class and then took him to Tuscson.
The 6’4, 305-pounder entered the NCAA transfer portal on Friday following the recent departure of Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch to Washington. Nansen has close ties to Savea after spending the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator and serving as Savea’s primary recruiter when he signed with UCLA out of high school.
A consensus four-star prospect out of Las Vegas (Nev.) Desert Pines in the 2021 recruiting class, Savea was ranked as the No. 226 player nationally and the No. 31 defensive lineman, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, after playing along the offensive line in high school. Savea signed with UCLA over offers from Arizona, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, TCU, Tennessee, and USC, among others.
In one season at UCLA, Savea made seven tackles in 10 games before following Nansen to Tuscson. With the Wildcats in 2022, Savea appeared in seven games with 14 total tackles (8 solo, 6 assist), including 1.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, one fumble recovery, and a blocked kick to help Arizona upset UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
As a junior, Savea played in 12 games with 22 tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and three quarterback hurries. Pro Football Focus graded Savea as the No. 10 defensive player for the Wildcats in 2023 at 68.5, slightly below average. As a run defender, Savea had posted stellar grades of 86.2 against Washington State and 86.9 against Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl win over the Sooners, but isn’t a particularly effective pass rusher according to those grades. Savea recorded eight hurries and 12 defensive stops, including 10 in the last four games, with only one missed tackle.
Texas needs help next to fifth-year senior Alfred Collins to allow for the development of young defensive tackles like redshirt freshman Sydir Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Aaron Bryant. The only other clear transfer portal target at the position, former Houston standout Ja’Maree Caldwell, landed at Oregon, but the deep connection between Nansen and Savea should make this a simple recruitment for the Longhorns even without a replacement named for departed defensive line coach Bo Davis.
Expect Savea to compete for a starting job if Texas doesn’t add an elite transfer at the position from the portal with a floor of an effective rotation player who possesses some potential remaining upside since he hasn’t had a redshirt season in college.