OXFORD, Miss. — All season long, Longhorn defenders have sworn that their quarterback would have their backs when they needed him.
And on a night when the Texas defense played well below its usual standard, sophomore David Ash went to the air and found the answers in a 66-31 victory at Ole Miss.
For the second consecutive week, Ash set a new career-high for passing yards, completing 19 of 23 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly was the way he did it, completing 15 straight passes at one point, and connecting on four deep balls.
“It’s not always that easy. But I thought we played well tonight, just as a team. Each guy did their job. When that happens, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
“We finally took advantage of the opportunities that had been there the previous two games,” Ash said. “And I had some guys out there that really made some plays for me. So it was a lot of fun.”
The first big play belonged to the Texas defense. Steve Edmond went into a zone drop and intercepted a throw from Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace. The 260-pound sophomore linebacker nearly tripped on the return, but righted himself and powered into the end zone after a 22-yard return.
“My feet were telling me to fall, but my mind was telling me to go,” Edmond said. “After I got past that first dude, I was [thinking] either run them over or jump over them.”
The defense continued its swarming play, sacking Wallace twice to force a punt before the Longhorns drove down for a field goal and a 10-0 lead. But the defense faltered for the first time on the Rebels’ next possession, allowing Wallace to connect with receiver Korvic Neat for a 30-yard pass on third-and-17. That play led to the Rebels’ first score and cut the lead to 10-7 when running back Randall Mackey ran in from the three.
But as they did all night, the Texas offense responded. Facing a first-and-15 at the Texas 31, Marquise Goodwin received a handoff on a jet sweep, pulled free from a tackler and outran the defense 69 yards for a touchdown. Ole Miss answered with a field goal before Ash hit on the first of his deep passes, an underthrown ball for Goodwin that went for a 47-yard gain. Two plays later, Ash hit tight end D.J. Grant for a three-yard touchdown.
And the Longhorns closed the stanza well, with Quandre Diggs picking off Wallace to set up another Texas chance before the half. Texas controlled the ball, with Ash connecting with fullback Ryan Roberson for his second touchdown pass with 12.6 seconds remaining before halftime.
That 31-10 lead ballooned further just after the break, when Texas drove down the field, scoring again on a D.J. Monroe 10-yard run.
And that’s when the fireworks began. The two teams exchanged touchdowns on the next four possessions, with Wallace hitting receiver Donte Moncrief for a 75-yard touchdown, Malcolm Brown pushing in from five yards out, Jeff Scott rushing for a 48-yard score and Ash hitting on his second underthrown deep ball, this one a 46-yard touchdown to Mike Davis.
“I think I mastered the underthrow,” Ash quipped. “They were making plays for me out there.”
Ash had one more successful underthrow, and answer, in him. After Brown scored on a 12-yard run, Ole Miss running back Jaylen Walton returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a score of his own. With Texas facing a third-and-five, and a short pass called, Ash audibled into another deep ball for Goodwin, who hauled it in and beat his defender for a 55-yarder that closed out the game’s scoring.
“Every time Ole Miss scored, the offense came back and answered,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “So I was really, really pleased with that.”
In all, Ash underthrew three of his four completed deep balls. Davis finished with five catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, and Goodwin caught two passes for 102 yards and a score, and added 80 yards rushing on two carries and another touchdown. Goodwin’s performance was even more impressive in that he arrived at the hotel late Friday night after meeting with President Barack Obama along with other U.S.Olympians. Goodwin participated in the long jump at the 2012 London Games.
“I feel like we can do this every week,” Davis said. “We’re getting better every week.”
“Whenever you get 66 points on a team, you know the offense was very prepared for this week,” added defensive end Alex Okafor. “They just executed the game, they went out and dominated. They helped the defense out a lot by keeping us off the field.”
But everyone was also quick to point out that the vertical passing game was set up by a powerful rushing offense that churned out 350 yards on 54 carries and scored four touchdowns. Brown led the way with 21 rushes for 128 yards and two scores. Joe Bergeron had 48 yards on 11 carries before leaving the game in the second half with an injury.
“I thought we did a good job,” Texas offensive guard Mason Walters said of the offensive line. “The credit’s got to go to our backs. They ran great tonight. They really ran downhill behind their pads, and it started getting late in the game and nobody wanted to tackle them. I didn’t even want to get in their way.”
Still, it wasn’t a perfect result. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz preaches that the Longhorns can’t give up big plays for touchdowns, and the Rebels had two of them, along with the kickoff return for a touchdown. Texas also tackled sloppily at times, and Ole Miss averaged 6.2 yards per play, putting up 399 total yards. That effort was spearheaded by Moncrief, who caught seven passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and Scott, who rushed eight times for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Mack Brown was quick to point out that the defense helped to build the Longhorns’ insurmountable lead, by forcing three turnovers, scoring a defensive touchdown and sacking Wallace five times in the first half.
“I thought the defense really started it,” Brown said. “With the interception, with Steve (Edmond) for a touchdown, I thought that set the tempo for the night. And there were early sacks against Ole Miss that really, really I thought sent a message to our offense that we would be OK defensively.
“And then I thought the offense just kind of started a little methodical, did what they were supposed to do,” Brown said. “After Marquise’s big play I thought they really took off and played with confidence.”
That confidence certainly filtered over to Ash, who has appeared more comfortable in the Texas offense by the week.
“He’s been doing great all of these games we’ve had so far,” said offensive guard Trey Hopkins. “But tonight, he really stepped up. He really took charge of the huddle, took charge of the game in general. He led us out there, and as you can see, it worked for us.”