Texas football adds experienced Zona transfer DL Tiaoalii Savea

A major positional need early this offseason at defensive tackle was partially addressed by Texas football in the transfer portal with the addition of a player new co-DC/LB coach Johnny Nansen is familiar with from his time at Arizona. Texas added former Arizona junior defensive lineman Tiaoalii Savea.
Tiaoalii Savea
Tiaoalii Savea / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The hot streak in the NCAA Transfer Portal for Texas football and head coach Steve Sarkisian early this offseason continues. Texas landed a commitment from the former Arizona Wildcats junior transfer defensive lineman Tiaoalii Savea on Jan. 23.

Savea committed to Texas following the multi-day official visit he took to Austin last weekend. He followed new co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Johnny Nansen from Arizona to Texas. Nansen was Savea's defensive coordinator at Arizona for the last two seasons.

Texas football gets more DL depth with Arizona transfer Tiaoalii Savea

Savea also followed Nansen from the UCLA Bruins to Arizona after the 2021 season when the new Texas co-DC/LB left head coach Chip Kelly's staff during the 2022 offseason.

Savea has one year of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-4 and 305-pound Savea brings proven Power Five experience and depth to the defensive line rotation for the Longhorns. Texas needed to add more depth at defensive tackle entering the SEC this upcoming season after losing its top two interior defensive linemen this offseason and an additional one to the portal in senior Trill Carter.

Savea played over 600 defensive snaps over his three seasons at UCLA and Arizona. The bulk of those defensive snaps came in the last two seasons with the Wildcats.

In 2023, Savea played a career-high 353 defensive snaps over a dozen games for the Wildcats, including three starts. He registered 22 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 12 defensive stops, and 10 quarterback pressures.

Savea came up big down the stretch last season for Nansen and the Wildcats on defense, taking over 30 defensive snaps in each of the final three games. He was the highest-graded PAC-12 defensive tackle in the season's final three weeks, largely thanks to a big performance in the Alamo Bowl win over Texas's rival, the Oklahoma Sooners.

Against the Sooners, Savea registered three combined tackles, a team-high three defensive stops, one quarterback pressure, and one tackle for loss.

Savea performing well against Oklahoma is surely an added bonus for the Longhorns with this portal addition.

If one thing was consistently true for Savea in his three seasons playing in the PAC-12, it was his disruptive presence up front on defense and special teams while not making many mistakes.

He registered 20 quarterback pressures, nearly two dozen defensive stops, two batted balls, one fumble recovery, and one blocked field goal in his collegiate career. Savea did all that while missing only three tackles in the last three seasons.

Texas gets a replacement for Trill Carter

A big role that Savea will fill at Texas in the SEC this year is the spot in the interior defensive line rotation that Carter was going to occupy. Savea has the size and proven experience at multiple Power Five programs to give the Longhorns some quality snaps in the trenches in the SEC this upcoming season.

Texas adding bodies along the defensive line means they can keep all their top guys fresh by consistently rotating up front. The Longhorns' top defensive tackles, T'Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy II, were so effective last season largely due to the fact that they were able to stay fresh by only taking around 25-35 defensive snaps per game.

Savea joining the mix gives the Longhorns the ability to rotate more guys up front to keep their top defensive tackles, such as seniors Alfred Collins and Vernon Broughton, in the SEC this fall.

His strength at Arizona last season was mainly in run defense. Savea was Arizona's highest-graded defensive tackle in run defense in 2023.

On film, Savea shows the ability to get good pad level and shed blocks to get to the ball-carrier and close up gaps in run defense.

Savea's ability to be disruptive in run defense shows in that he led all PAC-12 defensive tackles in average depth of tackle (-0.9 yards) on run plays in 2023.

Positional versatility

Texas is primarily getting an interior defensive lineman who can play three-tech defensive tackle for the Longhorns this upcoming season. He will be a true interior defensive lineman to play along Pete Kwiatkowski's 2-4-5 defensive front.

Most of Savea's defensive snaps were at three-tech (around 55 percent) at Arizona in 2023. He also played some two and 2i technique between the A and the B gaps. A little under four percent of Savea's defensive snaps were as a true nose tackle.

While Savea played most of his snaps on defense last season as a three-tech, he has experience moving around to different alignments along the defensive front at Arizona.

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