Mack Brown noticed something different about his quarterback last week against Texas Tech. Confidence.
David Ash didn’t play like a true freshman making just his third career start. Instead, he didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in four games. Ash was as poised a quarterback as the Longhorns have had all season, tucking the ball and running for 47 yards when his receivers were covered down field and throwing the ball away when the pocket was collapsing.
Still, the play that signaled to Brown that Ash was turning the corner was his 47-yard scamper to end the second quarter.
“I thought David Ash ran faster because he was more confident,” Brown said. “When he turned it loose on the 47-yard run, I have not seen him run that fast. And then he jumped up, he was aggressive and animated.”
That’s exactly what the Longhorns have been missing from their signal-caller since Colt McCoy’s final year in 2009.
Since assuming the starting role against Oklahoma State, Ash experienced the growing pains that come with being a freshman. But he’s also enhanced his play over the past two weeks, leading Texas to two straight wins.
“I try to make my confidence the same level all the time and then my game will come,” Ash said. “But the confidence always has to be there.”
He’s developing a rapport with big-play receiver Mike Davis, a combination that will serve the Longhorns well in weeks — and years — to come. The two connected on two passes for 72 yards against Tech, including a 48-yard strike on play-action. And with Texas committed to running the ball, those plays will only open up more.
“David has really grown up,” said Davis, who leads the team with 490 receiving yards. “He’s been stepping up, leading the team, making plays and making good decisions with the football.”
Ash’s position coach, Bryan Harsin, has seen steady improvement in the Belton native over the past month. Ash made strides against Texas Tech with his decision-making, but his grasp of the game was just as impressive.
The Red Raiders made several adjustments to their defense after halftime, but Ash quickly picked up on it and adapted.
“I thought he managed the game really well,” Harsin said. “We had several checks in that game that he got us out of and we made some adjustments at half time and he didn’t even blink an eye.”
Granted, Ash only threw the ball seven times in that game with Texas controlling the game with the run. But the Longhorns aren’t asking their freshman quarterback to win the game with his arm. They want him to limit turnovers and master the deep play-action pass.
But Missouri’s run defense is the best the Longhorns have seen in a month. When the Tigers played Baylor last Saturday, BU was forced to pass to soften up MU’s defense. Texas anticipates a similar scenario this week.
“This will be a game where we will have to throw the ball downfield,” Brown said.
A month ago, that kind of statement would have been a reach. But Ash isn’t the same player he was in early October.
He has the team, the coaching staff and the fans behind his back.
“He’s starting to complement himself: being able to run the ball, making decisions, along with his ability to throw the ball,” Harsin said. “He’s starting to realize there’s a lot more in his toolbox that he’s got available to him. When you do that as a player, you become more confident.”
And that’s exactly what Texas wants.
“Confidence is a powerful thing, and lack of it’s a killer,” Brown said.