Kwiatkowski Reflects on Decision to Leave UW, Facing Huskies in Alamo Bowl

SAN ANTONIO, TX. – For almost a decade Pete Kwiatkowski was the architect behind Washington’s smothering Death Row defense.

On Thursday, he’ll become the latest defense coordinator tasked with trying to slow down Michael Penix Jr. and one of the top scoring offenses in college football.

“Yeah, I know a lot of those guys,recruited a lot of those guys, and obviously have a history with Washington,” Kwiatkowski said Monday.

“Their offense, it starts with that quarterback. Penix is an outstanding quarterback, very accurate. O-line does a good job of keeping him clean,and they have three really good wide receivers that he can distribute the ball to, and so we’ve got a huge challenge in front of us for sure.”

Penix has thrown for 200-plus yards in every game this season, the second longest consecutive streak in school history behind Cody Pickett, with three games of 400-plus passing yards against Arizona, Oregon and Washington State respectively.

The Longhorns, who rank No. 89 in the country in passing defense averaging 239 yards per game entering the Alamo Bowl, haven’t allowed a quarterback to throw over 400 yards once this season. In their four defeats – at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, and at home to Alabama and TCU – none were by more than seven points. Specifically against the Crimson Tide and Horn Frogs the defense did its job.

When asked who UW compares to of the teams Texas has faced this season, fifth-year senior defensive lineman Keondre Coburn chose Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were one of two schools to attempt 50-plus passes on the Longhorns defense – Oklahoma State being the only other – and both resulted in defeat for UT.

“They’ve got some great athletes, receivers too, and they’ve got a great quarterback, and I just feel like they protect the quarterback well,” Coburn said.

“He’s in there making plays; they can call the type of offense they want to call. When you protect your quarterback and he don’t get hit, the offense is really moving smoothly, and then you can execute a lot of plays that you want to run and go against the defense for us.”

Branching Out

Kwiaktowki came to Washington with Chris Petersen from Boise State in 2014 where the two had spent eight seasons together.

He would go on to serve another six season under the two-time Paul “Bear” Bryant Award winner, the first four seasons of which Kwiatkowski was the Huskies defensive coordinator from 2014-17, before stepping aside to elevate defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake to full-time coordinator in 2018-19.

He return to the role in 2020 after Lake was named as head coach after Petersen resigned.

A little over year later Kwiatkowski was ready to venture out on his own path.

“I’d been on the West Coast my whole career. I’d been at Washington seven years, and I felt the timing was right,” Kwiatkowski said, when asked about his thought process that led to leaving two years ago.

“I grew up . . . Texas was – before all the cable TV – Texas was Keith Jackson. Texas-Oklahoma. Texas-Nebraska. It always intrigued me. I think it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Kwiatkowski brought his long-time coaching cohort, then-Montana State head coach Jeff Choate, with him to Austin. Both coaches were on staff under Petersen at UW from 2014-15 before Choate embarked on his head coaching career in the Big Sky.

“There’s a lot of familiarity with us because we’ve been with each other for so long,” Kwiatkowski said.

“Coming into a new staff having a guy like that – he knows how I think. I know how he thinks. It’s just one less piece that you gotta coach or figure out when you have a new staff, besides the coaches and the players. It’s good to have a guy that you’ve worked with over the years and know each other’s ticks.”

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