How critical is it that quarterback David Ash begins to connect on some his deep vertical routes? Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin’s response may surprise you.
Sure, Harsin digs the long ball. And defenses will continue to load the box and play ‘man’ until Ash can complement his strong arm with any semblance of downfield accuracy. In fact, the next time Ash completes a deep ball will be the first time since at least the middle of last season.
But Ash is already doing things more important than successfully managing the verticals, Harsin believes. Namely, Ash is protecting the football (in fact, he’s thrown 73 passes without a pick, dating back to last year’s Kansas State game). Ash is making the correct check-downs at the line of scrimmage, Harsin added. The sophomore has also been effective in the short and intermediate attempts and, so far, that’s just fine in Harsin’s walk-before-you-run perspective on quarterback development.
“If (deep routes) are what we hang our hat on, over and over and over, and the defense keeps taking it away, that becomes second-and-10 in a hurry.”
Of course, it was “second-and-10 in a hurry” in Saturday’s thumping of New Mexico. Ash went deep to receiver Mike Davis on the first play from scrimmage on a night when UT coaches were determined to develop the passing game. The Lobo defense “took away” the deep routes, said Harsin, though not everyone would agree.
In essence, Davis said he was open (“I ran my route”); he even said the offensive line protected well but Ash was “pressured” and “threw it out of bounds.”
Two series later, Ash missed a wide-open Marquise Goodwin at the New Mexico 15-yard line. In all probability, it cost Texas points on that possession. Obviously, those points will come at a premium this next month as the competition stiffens.
To be sure, coaches have stressed the importance of ‘explosives’ in the passing game (defined as gains of 16+ yards). Statistically, Ash has come closer to that standard with his 13.8 yards per completion average against New Mexico than his 5.6 yards per completion outing against Wyoming. (His New Mexico completion average dips closer to 11 yards if you factor out Daje Johnson’s 45-yard touchdown reception off a flip-toss. Johnson accounted for 44 of those yards with his feet). All in all, however, Ash is incrementally moving in the right direction, coaches believe.
A team will typically have “four or five shots” downfield in any ball game, Harsin said, adding that “we have to be able to take advantage of it." It’s a balancing act, Harsin concluded, between deep stuff and the quick-hitters.
“We have to be good at the underneath stuff because that’s what’s going to draw the defense in," Harsin said. "If we can hit (short and intermediate routes) consistently, it draws the coverage down and that gives us the opportunity to hit the ones behind it. You work your way up to those long balls.”