December 10, 2012

Texas QB: What happened in 2012 and what's next in 2013?

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2012: David Ash certainly showed glimpses of being a guy who can deliver the goods in a pressure situation at Oklahoma State and was arguably the team's most improved - if not best - player through the first five games of the season, including a dominating win at Ole Miss (19 of 23 passing for 326 yards and 4 TDs).

Texas finished the regular-season eighth nationally in third-down conversions at 50.3 percent, and Ash was a big part of that by completing 67.7 percent of his passes (17 TDs, 7 INTs).

Ash's connection with Mike Davis on the deep ball was a major development this season. And Ash showed pocket presence and mobility at times, extending plays and getting out of trouble.

But then the Oklahoma game happened, and he became one of the team's most inconsistent players at the team's most critical position.

Players on both sides of the Texas-OU rivalry talk about how a bad experience as a young player in that mega-intense atmosphere can repeat itself the next year unless something good happens early to fend off the avalanche of negative momentum.

Nothing good happened for the Texas offense or for Ash early in the OU game, and now Ash has two nightmare experiences against the Sooners (1 TD pass, 4 INTs and 3 fumbles, one of them lost) heading into that game in 2013.

The final six games Ash played in were evenly divided between good (Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State) and bad (Oklahoma, Kansas and TCU).

Colt McCoy went from a mixed bag sophomore year in 2007 (22 TD passes, 18 INTs with 492 yds rushing and 4 TDs on the ground) to a Heisman worthy season as a junior in 2008 (34 TD passes, 8 INTs with 561 yards rushing and 11 TDs on the ground). Does Ash have the mental makeup to make a similar leap?

First, Ash has to show up against Oklahoma. At the same points in their careers, Colt McCoy had already beaten OU. McCoy had the benefit of inheriting a veteran offense in 2006 and leading a second-half comeback, sparked by a 33-yard TD pass to Limas Sweed, to beat the Sooners 28-10.

Ash was thrown into the OU game as a freshman, and nothing went well in a 55-17 loss. This season, Ash had already shown he could deliver in the clutch in the win at Oklahoma State. But the OU game still seemed too big for Ash, who went into a shell (with some less-than-imaginative play-calling) against an average Sooners' defense.

WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN FOR 2013: For Texas to make a Big 12 title run in 2013, it would seem the investment in Ash has to pay off as a junior.

Part of that development will be standing strong and delivering against OU as well as showing he can turn around a game in which he starts off poorly.

Ash tends to play well in games in which he starts off well. But we haven't seen him turn things around in games in which he starts off poorly. And Ash is so stoic in those situations, it's hard for the coaches to read him, including the rib injury suffered against TCU. Maturity is a big part of that.

Ash is hard on himself. He tends to get down and stay down on himself. And it's clear the coaches have questions about if Ash can mature through that. They have not yet named a starter for the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State.

And they are actively courting junior college prospects with five scholarship QBs set to be on the roster in 2013 (Ash, Case McCoy, Jalen Overstreet, Connor Brewer and Tyrone Swoopes).

The margin for error is so thin in college football, a bad game by the quarterback can cost you a chance for a title. Just look at the Kansas game. Ash couldn't snap out of the funk he was in, and a loss in that game might have been too much for Mack Brown to overcome this season.

But Kansas dropped an interception on UT's final drive, and Case McCoy helped bail out the Longhorns, although the play-calling in that game was questionable (perimeter run game was ignored, for the most part, against a slow-footed KU defense until it was nearly too late). Ash also had three deadly turnovers in the red zone against TCU. And McCoy had two near pick-sixes in the K-State game.

The questions about McCoy's arm strength were only magnified by his interceptions on those out routes. With McCoy as quarterback, Texas would have a limited passing game.

If Texas turned to either Connor Brewer, Jalen Overstreet or Tyrone Swoopes next year, there would be another learning curve, especially in the OU game.

Of course, after what Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota did as redshirt freshmen this season, there might be a reason to see if that kind of dual-threat playmaking exists in a guy like Overstreet.

I'm told Overstreet needs more seasoning and Brewer needs to get stronger. If the coaches are already unsure about Brewer and Overstreet long-term, then it only adds to the mess Texas has made recruiting quarterbacks since pinning hopes to Garrett Gilbert in the class of 2009. It's hard to read the current situation any other way.

If the coaches are trying to light a fire under Ash by slow-playing the starting job for the bowl game and by talking to junior college prospects, the message should now be loud and clear. I'm told the possibility of bringing in a junior college quarterback is to make sure there's not a big dropoff in arm strength behind Ash.

If you bring in McCoy, again, the coaches believe there are certain limitations in what you can do with the passing game.

But Ash needs to start the Alamo Bowl and use the off-season program to keep maturing and take the next step as a quarterback who can go into the Cotton Bowl against OU next October and win.

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