Coach Mack Brown has, for years, pointed to 2013 as the season when
Texas would be infused with enough experienced playmakers to return to
championship caliber. But that assessment comes with a caveat.
“We first have to be established at quarterback,” Brown said Sunday.
Well, are we?
Junior David Ash is the Big 12’s most experienced quarterback, but his grip on the starting spot is tenuous. That’s what happens when you’ve been a model of inconsistency and when a freshman backup is already drawing premature comparisons to Vince Young.
“The biggest thing for David is he has had two great years to learn,” Brown said. “Some things were really positive and some not as good. All those situations have helped him become more mature and more confident. He knows, now, he can overcome a poor start.”
Ash finished his sophomore season as college football’s 21st most efficient passer, finishing ahead of the likes of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Kansas State’s Collin Klein. But Ash’s outing in Texas’ 2013 spring game was a microcosm of his career. He was 14-of-16 passing out of the gate, but his final two series just before halftime resulted in an interception, an incompletion and another interception. Coordinator Major Applewhite had dialed up a four-minute, and two-minute offense, respectively, for the final possessions. Although Ash’s overall body of work for the evening was tolerable, Applewhite observed that a pair of momentum-shifting turnovers just before the break is what gets you beat.
That same scrimmage also gave Texas fans a tantalizing glimpse of the 6-5, 250-pound Tyrone Swoopes. The freshman showed he could move the chains against the Ones and is such a physical specimen that he, frankly, has reframed Texas’ QB picture. These days, fans are not asking if Swoopes will start… but when.
Swoopes may have elevated his stature in the eyes of boosters but, officially, his spring semester served only to move him to No. 3 in the pecking order.
“When we left in the spring, he wasn’t confident in his ability to run the team and call plays at the line of scrimmage,” Brown said. “We may have to slow down the tempo when he’s in the game. We’ll have a more limited package than David or Case (McCoy). We need to see him protect the ball, and make the right throws and reads. We want to see him have control of the offense when he’s out on field with people moving around trying to blitz him.”
Presumably, Swoopes loses his ‘shirt late in the second half in the August 31 home-opener against New Mexico State. Meanwhile, the jury will be out on Ash until after the sun sets on this year’s Oklahoma game.
Ash hasn’t received the credit he deserves, insists Brown, noting that his quarterback won 10 of his past 13. It’s just that the same QB who engineered late comebacks at Oklahoma State and in the Alamo Bowl was also benched four times last season (OU, Kansas, TCU, Kansas State). Granted, Ash played hurt against TCU and was sidelined for the same rib injury the following week against the Wildcats. And nearly every Longhorn has played miserably the past two seasons against OU.
“He’s a very tough young man,” Brown said. “He knows he can make plays with his feet. He did that against Oregon State to help us win that game. That’s another part of his game that stepped up this spring.”
But does Ash have the street cred, and the persona, to carry the team on his shoulder pads?
Among the media, Ash possesses neither Vince Young’s charisma nor Colt McCoy’s polish. Ash comes across either as soft-spoken, quirky, tepid and, at times, a bit of a smartass. (Ask him a stupid question, you’ll get a glib response.)
What matters most, of course, is Ash’s demeanor in the huddle. Ash can get in your grill and administer a fiery tongue-lashing, players insist. Only difference is, now, the audience is listening.
“The biggest thing is he now has the ability to lead other guys,” Brown said. “They understand he is ‘the guy’. They’re looking at him. When he speaks, they listen.”
Texas’ offense the past couple of seasons was, in theory, built to withstand a subpar outing from its quarterback. These days, the most import preseason drill for Ash is a cold, hard fact that coaches have tried to drill into his head: neither McCoy nor Young came into his own until their third season. (Heck, McCoy even threw 10 more interceptions his sophomore year than the eight Ash tossed in 2012.)
If the trend continues, the third time will be a charm for David Ash and, by extension, for the entire Longhorn program.