It was 237 long days between Texas’ Holiday Bowl win over Cal last December and the day, to no one’s surprise, when the Longhorns finally named David Ash their starting quarterback last week.
“I didn’t think [it would happen],” one source with intimate knowledge of the situation said. “I knew it would happen.”
Despite Mack Brown’s pleas at this summer’s Big 12 Media Days to not count out Case McCoy, who didn’t play a single snap in the Holiday Bowl victory after being picked off four times in his final seven drives in the regular season finale against Baylor. Ash, the 2011 Holiday Bowl MVP, topped the depth chart.
But, unlike the days of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, the Longhorns won’t lean on their quarterback to carry the offense. They have the nation’s only backfield with two running backs that were the best in the country at their position coming out of high school in Malcolm Brown and incoming freshman Johnathan Gray. They return all three starting wide receivers from a year ago and all but one offensive lineman.
“When the guys around you are better and experienced, all it does is help you out,” Ash said. “You feed off each other and get better every day.”
Ash will be feeding off a running game that promises to be one of the nation’s best. Before being nagged by a turf toe injury for most of the second half of last season, Brown was on pace to run for 1,000 yards as a freshman while Joe Bergeron averaged 6.4 yards per carry and broke out with a 191-yard performance in a win over Texas Tech last year in Brown’s absence. To make sure Brown and Bergeron get through this season injury-free, Johnathan Gray, who scored more than 200 touchdowns in his high school career, should get plenty of touches.
“We’re going to run the ball well,” junior offensive guard Trey Hopkins said. “That’s been an emphasis of ours. But we’re also going to pass the ball well and give our quarterbacks time back there. But if we can run the ball, bring more guys in the box and get those long downfield passes, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re definitely going to be a strong running team.”
Marquise Goodwin, fresh from his first Olympics, is capable of running a 40-yard dash under 4.3 seconds. Mike Davis is back after leading Texas with 45 catches and 609 yards last year as a sophomore and Jaxon Shipley returns following a freshman year that saw him give Davis a run for his money with 44 receptions for 607 yards. Shipley did throw three touchdown passes last year, though, three more than Davis. and he is part of what should be a much-improved group of wideouts.
“I like what our wide receiver position has done,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “Jaxon is a guy that provides a spark out there in practice and that energy has been shown in the entire receiving corps ... Those guys [The receivers and quarterbacks] have a chip on their shoulder to prove something.”
Indeed, the Texas passing game has a lot to prove. After a big win over the Red Raiders last year, the Longhorns went 25 drives with Ash under center without scoring a touchdown. They scored three points while Ash was picked off four times over that stretch. Texas can’t afford a similar string of unproductive possessions this season.
“I’ve always expected to be the guy,” Ash said. “I throw the ball pretty well. I’m accurate. I think I’ve learned to make good decisions. Those are the two most important attributes — accuracy and decision-making.”
As much as Ash has likely improved, if Texas gets to the BCS bowl game he promised after accepting the Holiday Bowl MVP award in San Diego last December, it won’t be because of him. It will be because of the players around him.