Editor’s note: This is the first of five burning questions we will ask as spring practice kicks off: Can David Ash return Texas to greatness? The second — How can the Longhorns replace Kenny Vaccaro? — will be answered Thursday.
On a sunny September day in 2011, David Ash slipped on his uniform, ready for his second game as a Longhorn.
He’d thrown one pass for two yards the week before during Texas’ first game of the season, and was ranked a third-string quarterback heading into his first year of play. The freshman was soon thrust into the driver’s seat after junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw two interceptions, resulting in a series of “boos” from frustrated fans who wanted to see more production from their starter.
Now, two years later, Ash enters spring practice as the defacto starter, charged with leading the Longhorns to their first 10-win season since 2009.
“I think we are seeing David Ash as the clearcut starting quarterback going into spring,” head coach Mack Brown said last week in a rare moment of frankness regarding the position. “[He’s] coming out of a year where he’s won 10 of the last 13 games he’s played. He was in the top 10 in passing efficiency. I really don’t think he’s gotten near the accolades that he deserves. And I think he has a chance to be really, really good this year.”
As a sophomore, Ash had moments of brilliance and instances of inconsistency. He started 12 of 13 games, missing only Kansas State with an injury. He began the season on a high note with wins against Wyoming, New Mexico and lauded performances against Ole Miss — in which he completed 19-for-23 passes to earn National Quarterback of the Week — and Oklahoma State, in which he led a game-winning drive with under two minutes remaining.
But then there were the ugly games, too. Oklahoma stomped all over Texas as the Longhorn offense floundered, struggling to execute as Ash bowed out in the fourth quarter because of a left wrist injury. What fans assumed would be a guaranteed conference win at Kansas turned out to be a nail-biter, as Ash failed to deliver and was replaced by McCoy, who managed to pull the Longhorns back and win.
Ash’s season was frustrating at times. However, a shining performance in the Alamo Bowl, with a fourth quarter comeback to erase a 10-point deficit, inspired hope that Ash was growing into his role and ready to make his mark as a junior.
“I think he’s done a great job this year,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite said after the bowl game. “Has there been a game or two he wants back? Absolutely. He’s done some great things for our football team and made some great plays in clutch situations.”
As Texas embarks upon a new season, much of the heat rests on Ash. Can he deliver? Will he take the reins and lead Texas to the season fans have been hoping for?
Mack Brown thinks so.
“He’s had numerous conversations with Vince [Young] about leadership and moving forward,” Brown said at his press conference last week. “I think he has a chance to be really, really good this year.”
Ash will operate a quick-tempo offense, compared to the power running schemes the Longhorns tried to implement the last two seasons. The absence of constant personnel swaps will speed the game up, requiring Ash to make most of his adjustments and audibles at the line of scrimmage. With two seasons — and 18 starts — under his belt, he should have the experience and the confidence to assume full control of the tweaked offense.
“[David’s] a young guy still, but I think he’s got the determination,” Applewhite said. “I think he’s got the mindset.”