It wasn't supposed to come down to a fourth-and-6 on the Texas 29.
The Longhorns were a 2.5 point road favorite at Oklahoma State because of their defense and run game, not their QB. They had three highly-touted young RB's and a defense with at least three future first-round picks; the last time David Ash had made a Big 12 road start, he had completed 13-29 passes for 158 yards and an INT.
The loss at Missouri was one of the lowest moments of an up-and-down 2011 campaign, when Ash was unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup as a raw true freshman. After a bounce-back performance in the Holiday Bowl, there was optimism surrounding Ash coming into the season, but he was still expected to be a "game manager" in 2012.
He had played well against New Mexico, Wyoming and Ole Miss, but none of those teams had the talent to play with Texas for four quarters. The Cowboys, on a two-game winning streak against the Longhorns, definitely did.
Aided by a Texas defense with a shocking inability to tackle, Oklahoma State put up 576 yards of offense and scored 36 points. Joseph Randle rushed for 199 yards and 2 TD's on a whopping 8.0 yards per carry, either blowing by or running over Texas players all night. The Cowboys offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, creating huge holes for Randle and giving freshman QB J.W. Walsh time to get comfortable in the pocket.
Oklahoma State rushed for 275 yards on 40 carries; Texas, in contrast, rushed for 136 yards on 42 carries. With Malcolm Brown hampered by an ankle injury, seven different Longhorns had rushing attempts. Five-star freshman Johnathan Gray had the best game of his young career, with 12 rushes for 68 yards, but none of the other Texas runners could find much of a rhythm.
And with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter and the Longhorns down 36-34, there wouldn't be time for a run game. The game was in Ash's hands.
The drive didn't get off to an auspicious start: an incomplete pass to a RB, a sack and a 4-yard pass to a RB. But instead of playing it safe and looking for a short completion on fourth down, Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite dialed up a big passing play over the middle of the field. Ash hit TE D.J. Grant in stride ten yards beyond the marker for a 29-yard completion, and the rest ... may soon be Texas history.
Two plays later, Ash under-threw a deep ball to WR Mike Davis, who outjumped the Oklahoma State defender and caught the ball at the Oklahoma State 5. Two rushes from Joe Bergeron later and the game was effectively over.
Ash's day -- 30/37 passes for 307 yards, 3 TD's and an INT -- was the best performance a Texas QB has had since Colt McCoy. An athletic 6'3 225 QB with a strong arm, he's the best downfield passer the program has had since Vince Young. That, of course, is heady company to put a 19-year old QB in, but his statistics were that good on Saturday.
With a grueling round robin conference schedule coming up, Ash won't always look this good in 2012. He is, after all, still a 19-year old with 12 career starts under his belt. But he should have 20+ starts before his junior season and 30+ starts before his senior season, making him one of the longest tenured starting QB's in program history. That doesn't necessarily foretell greatness, just ask Landry Jones, but it certainly could.
Ash will get a good look at how unstoppable a spread QB can be next week when Texas hosts West Virginia and Geno Smith, coming off a historic 70-point demolition of Baylor. And if the Longhorns defenders don't learn how to tackle over the next week, they may need him to play even better next Saturday.
For now, Texas is going as far as Ash can take them. A good QB can paper over a lot of holes; it looks like the Longhorns have found one.