Ash comes out of nowhere to become full-time starter

Christian Corona

When David Ash was offered a scholarship to play football at the University of Texas, he didn’t hesitate to make a decision.

“We were in Coach [Mack] Brown’s office, and our whole family was there,” said Stephen Ash, David’s father. “When they offered him, he said ‘I accept.’ It was a very special time.”

If someone said Ash would become Texas’ starting quarterback two months ago, much less last February when he committed to play for the Longhorns, he or she would have been considered crazy. With junior Garrett Gilbert and sophomore Case McCoy towering over him on the depth chart, along with highly touted Connor Brewer set to join Texas in 2012, Ash’s chances to play seemed slim.

“He’s really got a single-minded focus,” Stephen Ash said. “He’s uncompromising with what he believes he should do and what should be done. I think he’s willing to give everything he’s got.”

Ash’s job was made much easier Saturday when Texas amassed 441 rushing yards and ran the ball on 72 of its 93 offensive plays. The Longhorns are relying on a run-first approach for the first time since the Vince Young era, and it’s finally paying off after futile attempts to install an effective ground game last season.

“If something’s going good, why not stay with it?” said senior guard David Snow. “That’s what we needed to do to beat Kansas. If we need to rear back and throw it, we can. David Ash has a great arm, and the receivers are good.”

At the beginning of the season, Ash’s playing time was restricted to a particular package that consisted mostly of zone-read plays. But as the year progressed, Ash’s passing workload increased with every game until he made his first career start against Oklahoma State. Ash threw 40 times against the Cowboys while only firing 18 passes against Kansas as Texas built an early lead.

“I thought he was more comfortable,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “But we want to eliminate the turnover in the red zone. We want to eliminate the sack we lost all those yards on. There’s still some mistakes that we need to clean up, but I like his presence out there.”

Ash hit some road blocks when Oklahoma State visited Austin. The freshman quarterback committed two turnovers and averaged just 3.5 yards per pass. But he bounced back nicely against the Jayhawks, going 14-for-18 and running for his first touchdown from two yards out on third and goal. Ash did, however, throw another interception and took a sack for a 20-yard loss. Such mistakes may be frustrating but are to be expected from a true freshman behind center.

“There’s probably two or three plays in there that I’ve got to eliminate,” Ash said. “Other than that, I made pretty good decisions. I was completing passes. I’m just trying to do what I’m coached to do.”

Even after Ash’s impressive showing and the fact that McCoy has spent most of the last two games wearing a headset, there is still that pesky “or” between the two quarterbacks on the depth chart. McCoy completed both of his passes against Kansas, his first throws since the Red River Rivalry last month. Both Brown and Harsin said Monday that if the Longhorns played today, Ash would start because of his performance against Kansas. They also said the quarterback competition is still open.

“We’re not in a position where we’re ready to anoint anybody as the guy,” Brown said. “We’ve got five very difficult games coming up here. We can’t afford to have a bad game at that position.”

Ash has made significant progress between his first two career starts, especially considering he went from a loss to a win, which he cited as the most significant indicator of his improvement. But for Texas to have at winning its next five games, Ash, if he remains to be the full-time starter, will have to continue to improve.

Printed on Thursday, November 3, 2011 as: Freshman quarterback assumes starting role as Longhorns continue to rebuild program