David Ash's Davey O'Brien-recognized performance against the Ole Miss Rebels was a welcome development for Longhorn fans. His accuracy, command of the offense, and success in landing multiple deep shots against the Ole Miss secondary were all big developments of the kind Texas needed and expected at the Quarterback position for this season.
There was a time in 2011 when Ash seemed to be breaking out. In the consecutive drubbings of Texas Tech and Kansas, Ash successfully "managed" the game while the offensive line and young backs piled up 95 points and over 800 rushing yards.
However, over the course of those games and in the following contest with Missouri, Texas lost Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown, Fozzy Whittaker, and Jaxon Shipley to injury. Ash clearly wasn't ready to shoulder the burden of the offense and his performance in the following game against KSU revealed a shaken player that was actively regressing.
In Greg Davis' offense, Ash would have been groomed and practiced for years before being being entrusted with a starting role. The new staff wanted to utilize him early and then were forced to hand him the entire offense when the older Garrett Gilbert collapsed that pressure and elected to have surgery and transfer. It's possible that further calamity in 2011 could have had a similar effect on young Ash.
Instead, Case McCoy led the charge against Texas A&M and Baylor. Ash, meanwhile, regrouped before assuming command of the position in the Holiday Bowl against California. Based on the events of 2011, reasonable Texas fans hoped that the performance against Cal would be indicative of the potential for him and the offense in 2012. Then, in Oxford, Ash revealed something else entirely.
The final line says volumes about this Texas team, some of it more or less obvious. Ash completed 19 of 23 passes for 326 yards and 4 TD's, good for 14.2 yards per pass attempt. When Ash stepped back to throw, terrible things happened to Ole Miss.
Critics have been quick to note how much of this success was the result of easy short passes, pitches, and under-thrown deep balls. While there is truth to that, they miss the grander point of what this contest meant about David Ash and the Texas offense.
The Texas offense being assembled by Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite is a dynamic and explosive one in the hands of a capable leader. On Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, David Ash was that leader. His success was as much a metric of the growth of the offensive system as it was his own maturation as a player.
Back in the year 1968, Texas had also installed a dynamic new offense styled "the wishbone" that stuttered to an inauspicious start until James Street was entrusted with the reigns as QB and then an astounding winning streak ensued that carried the 'Horns to championships in '69 and '70.
Because of all that success, James is often honored as one of the more famous and "greatest" Texas quarterbacks to play the game. In reality, he was merely a solid passer, shifty runner, and shrewd operator of the Wishbone arsenal. In 1968, he wasn't the most talented QB on the team and had to earn the starting role based on the results of his play.
Texas didn't depend on him to master a passing game dependent on timing and accuracy efficiently enough to carry a team and break records like Colt McCoy, nor did he need to physically dominate opponents and key both the running and passing games as Vince did. What Street did well was understand how to utilize the 'bone, and make the plays that were available for the QB to make.
In the current Texas offense, there are big plays to be made by a QB that can understand the offense, make audibles or change the play if he sees the defense doing something troubling for the play, and execute the various throws and pitches of the offense.
The manner in which Ash sells a misdirection hand-off on a play-action throw, a fake on the statue of liberty plays, or delivers a pitch to a receiving sweeping into the backfield make a big difference. The ability to lead a receiver on a screen pass so that they are already moving forward when the make the catch, or leading a receiver away from coverage or hits on throws across the middle of the field are under appreciated skills that make an offense hum, though they may not turn the heads of NFL scouts.
On the deep pass connections over the course of the game, Ash was right to under-throw the ball, although he needn't have done so quite to the extent he did on some throws. A defender trailing a receiver down field is rarely able to make a play on the ball. The under-throw allows the receiver to make the catch against an out of position defender whereas attempting to perfectly lead the receiver may place the ball where he can't reach it. Colt McCoy's highlight reels are replete with such throws to Quan Cosby and Limas Sweed.
In Mississippi, things changed for David Ash as we saw the results he's capable of when confident that he can perform his role in the offense. With the offensive line blowing Rebels off the ball and the running backs plowing through the scraps that were left, it was clear that Ash wasn't going to have shoulder an unrealistic burden.
He let fly a successful deep strike early in the game and the floodgates of confidence were opened. David Ash now firmly knows he can execute this offense and he knows that it's not all on him. Armed with that knowledge, a signal-caller has emerged capable of leading an offense that might be better than most of us guessed.
When an athlete starts playing with confidence, you often see the dominoes of progression fall much more quickly. Texas has now mastered a few basic concepts along with the series of plays and techniques that Harsin routinely builds in to complement a play. Expect that basic foundation to expand now as Texas looks to build an identity around what their exciting young players are able to do, which Ole Miss can tell you is more than enough.