Texas tailbacks good enough to make up for lack of great quarterback


Lawrence Peart

Malcolm Brown scrambles past the California defense during the Holiday Bowl Dec. 28.

Christian Corona

It’s hard not obsess over a team’s quarterback, especially at Texas. The guy behind center for the Longhorns will always be under a microscope.

That’s about the only certainty surrounding the quarterback situation this season. Garrett Gilbert lasted just two games before he had season-ending shoulder surgery and decided to transfer to SMU. Case McCoy and David Ash shared snaps for three games, then Ash started five, and McCoy started the final two regular season contests before Ash got the nod for the Holiday Bowl – a contest during which he was named MVP while helping Texas triumph over Cal, 21-10, and finish its season 8-5.

“It hasn’t been an easy year,” Ash said. “I felt like I let down my team during a certain portion of the year and felt like we could have won more games had I played better but to get through all that and get a great bowl win, it’s great to finish on that.”

In a conference that boasted six of the nation’s top 13 of four of the country’s most prolific passers, including the Heisman Trophy winner, the revolving door of struggling signal-callers was a major point of frustration for Texas fans all season long.

“Everbody knows that having one quarterback and not switching from one to the other definitely would help with the consistency,” said freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. “It was one of those seasons where we were switching the quarterback and it was hard for our quarterbacks to find a groove.”

But as big of a deal as the quarterback position may seem, it won’t matter as much when Texas brings back two dynamic freshmen and brings in one of the best running backs in high school football history. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were superb while they were healthy and subpar while they weren’t. Before Brown began battling a turf toe injury, he had three 100-yard outings under his belt and was on pace top the 1,000-yard mark. Bergeron ran for 327 yards and five touchdowns over his last two games before he was forced to sit out three contests with an ailing hamstring.

Brown and Bergeron were impressive before their respective injuries but the tailback Texas is bringing in next season has the potential to better than both of them. Aledo product and five-star prospect Jonathan Gray will go down as one of the best running backs in high school football history. The 5-foot-10 two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year scored his 205th career touchdown in the Bearcats’ 49-28 win over Manvel earlier this month that gave Aledo its third straight state title.

David Ash completed 14 of 23 passes for 142 yards and scored twice, once on a 47-yard pass to Marquise Goodwin and again on a 4-yard catch from Shipley. The performance was good enough to garner Holiday Bowl MVP honors but may not be good enough to solidify himself as the starting quarterback going into the offseason. Before his second-quarter touchdown grab, Ash went 25 drives between leading Texas into the end zone.

The freshmen went more than five and a half games and 126 attempts, six of which were intercepted, before he threw his first touchdown as a starting quarterback. Meanwhile, McCoy threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Grant on just his second throw as a starter and was not picked off until the Longhorns’ last regular season game.

“Both [McCoy and Ash] have done good things and both have struggled some,” said head coach Mack Brown. “What [Ash] did tonight is special. I can see where we’re going and I’m excited about it.”

The legacy left by legends like Vince Young and Colt McCoy spoiled Texas fans and made their shoes impossible to fill by guys like Gilbert, McCoy, and Ash. But the Longhorns also have a rich tradition of having outstanding running backs. And Texas will have three of them next season, which should make up for not having any great quarterbacks.