With a defense that will be among the best of any not in the Southeastern Conference, and the triumvirate of talented running backs Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray, the Longhorns have enough pieces to contend for a Big 12 Championship come November.
They won’t mean anything, though, if David Ash doesn’t take the next step as quarterback.
With voluntary workouts underway, the heat is on Ash, who was 3-3 last season as a starter. To be fair, he was thrust into the role without much warning; this time a year ago, with Garrett Gilbert in the lead at quarterback and Case McCoy and Connor Wood behind him, Ash was preparing to redshirt. You know what followed. Ash looked much more comfortable in the spring, though, completing five of six passes for 83 yards in the Orange-White scrimmage.
“I thought I played better football this spring than I did last season,” Ash said afterward.
You’d hope so, considering he completed just 57 percent of his passes and threw eight interceptions to four touchdowns. Co-offensive coordinator Byran Harsin spoke of Ash’s development in the spring.
“The anxiety of not knowing where to go in practice, what the drills are or where we go is gone,” Harsin said. “The anxiety of not knowing what the formation is or not knowing how to call the play in the huddle is gone.”
Ash was wide-eyed as a freshman, at times unwilling or unable to take complete control of the offense or the huddle. The fact that he’s feeling more comfortable and not looking over his shoulder means that he’s probably ready to be just the guy the Longhorns need: a game manager. I wouldn’t put much stock in a quarterback controversy this fall.
The days of throwing the ball 58 times a game (Colt McCoy vs. Ohio State, 2009) or asking a quarterback to amass 336 yards of offense (Vince Young vs. Colorado, 2005) are long gone. If Texas has that kind of special quarterback, then great. If it doesn’t — and most teams do not — then Texas will just need one who will protect the football.
Take Alabama’s AJ McCarron: not considered a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback by any means, he guided Alabama to the BCS Championship. McCarron wasn’t asked to win games — just not to lose them. In 328 attempts, McCarron only threw five interceptions. Had Ash attempted that many passes, the numbers project he would have thrown 15 picks.
Yes, to a fan base spoiled from years of watching Young and McCoy, it sounds a little boring, especially in the age of the quarterback, where exceptional names — Griffin III, Luck and Newton, most recently — bubble up every year. David Ash doesn’t need to be nearly as good as any of those guys, not with the other parts Texas has in place.
He just needs to be a lot better and smarter with the football than he was as a freshman.