SAN ANTONIO – At the end of one of the more mystifying seasons in school history, David Ash came to a crossroads at the intersection of Potential and Inconsistency.
He took the right turn, and so did his career.
The home-schooled, Scripture-quoting sophomore from Belton cut his long blond locks, shook off the rust that had accumulated since his last action on Thanksgiving night and showed the moxie and the magic that Texas thought he had right up until the final two games.
Ash came of age Saturday.
He has less hair now, but more aura.
If he remembers the Alamo Bowl performance and builds upon his best game as a Longhorn, there’s no limit to his ability to grow and expand with a versatile offensive package that was showcased here in a 31-27 win over Oregon State.
Following a frighteningly ragged first half, Ash took the reins of the Longhorn offense and produced three touchdowns – one on an 11-yard run – in the game’s final 20-plus minutes to rally Texas from its largest deficit of the season after trailing by 10.
A partisan Longhorns crowd saw the winning debut of a new offensive coordinator and a resurgent quarterback. Major Applewhite utilized all of Ash’s skills, fitting in several draws to keep Oregon State off balance, and maximized the full talents of his roster. Applewhite got minimum results from the run game but called upon his speed guys, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe, early and often whereas predecessor Bryan Harsin used them almost exclusively on jet sweeps. “He found a way to use me a little bit more, ” Goodwin said. “David just made plays.”
It all started with Ash.
He ran for a score and threw for two more, an off-schedule play in which he evaded a pass-rusher and threw across his body to Johnathan Gray, and firing a 36-yard strike to Goodwin for the winning touchdown with just more than two minutes to play. Goodwin, with two touchdowns and 132 yards of offense, was named the most outstanding offensive player of the game, but Ash easily could have walked off with the prize for a second consecutive bowl.
Mack Brown found his quarterback.
Now he has to trust him.
The Texas head coach has been reluctant to fully endorse the embattled quarterback, who has alternated between brilliant and bust for much of his first two seasons. As recently as the day before the Alamo Bowl, Brown declined to say Ash was auditioning for the 2013 starting job that he has owned for most of the last two years when he and Case McCoy attempted to replace the erratic Garrett Gilbert.
All Brown would say was that Ash was facing a big-game opportunity against an extremely salty Oregon State team.
Ash passed the test.
“I thought he had a tremendous game, ” Brown said.
And there should be no doubts that Texas should start next season with Ash in the huddle. Forget the Band-Aid of a junior-college quarterback although the Longhorns might still flirt with one. Redshirting freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet aren’t ready. Incoming Tyrone Swoopes doesn’t even know where the locker room is yet.
If 2013 figures to perhaps be Mack Brown’s swan song, he should at least remove quarterback as one of the question marks for next fall. It’ll be difficult enough to replace pass-rushing monster Alex Okafor and defensive heart and soul Kenny Vaccaro, and patch the holes that have made this Texas defense one of the worst in school history.
Ash won’t go from embattled starter to Heisman favorite next season, but he has shown enough upside with a strong arm, good improvisational skills and an unshakable inner confidence to deserve to head into spring training as the undisputed leader of this team. Granted, his record as a starter remains an undistinguished 12-6 (McCoy rescued him in one win), and his sagging performances in losses to Oklahoma and TCU won’t be forgotten.
But neither will be a memorable bowl game from the player who now must claim this team as his own. And his starting job with it.