STILLWATER, Okla. — One of these days, maybe even sometime this season, we could find out what kind of team Texas is.
And with it, we might soon discover how Texas feels about its quarterback, too.
The Longhorns ignored and leaned on – all in the last five minutes – David Ash Saturday night. The result was a 41-36 win against Oklahoma State in front of 56,709 fans at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Ash was spectacular again, just like he had been the first three games of the season, yet he was largely a forgotten man late in the fourth quarter before being rediscovered on the most-important drive of the year for Texas.
On a record-setting day for Big 12 quarterbacks, Ash, who certainly will never be confused with West Virginia’s Geno Smith or even Baylor’s Nick Florence, threw short and long, hit guys when they were open and threw it away when they weren’t against OSU.
And certainly at Texas, where quarterbacks are born with an identity, Ash is closer to faceless than flawless. He’s the anti-Vince Young, doesn’t have personality like Major Applewhite or the flair of Colt McCoy.
Saturday, he was just a guy who completed 30-37 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Oh, he was also clutch when he had to be and cool when it counted. Ash put together a game-saver of a drive, going from the Texas 25 to the end zone in the last 2:34 of the fourth quarter, completing a fourth-down throw for 29 yards and a 32-yard pass of perfection on the next play getting it down to the OSU 5-yard line.
“David was spectacular on that drive,” Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “He managed that drive well. We were going in and out of no-huddle, a mixture we concocted in the last two minutes. David operated it flawlessly.”
So, who’s a believer now?
“He has really grown up,” coach Mack Brown said. “He couldn’t have done this at the same time last year.”
Remember, Ash came out of a four-way quarterback battle a season ago and largely was a question mark coming into 2012. Maybe that’s why Texas doesn’t seem completely sold on him yet. Yes, the Longhorns are now 4-0 and climbing, but no, they weren’t ready for him to be the star. Not yet, anyway.
After falling behind 33-28 with 9:36 to play, Ash completed a 4-yard screen pass on first down from his own 25-yard line. From there, the Longhorns let Ash throw it just one more time in the next eight plays, relying instead on running back Jonathan Gray, who carried it with conviction – 45 yards on five carries. Texas took the lead on that drive.
So, when Oklahoma State needed just seven plays to retake the lead, why then did Ash, and not Gray, seem to be the option?
Harsin says it was because of the clock, and he’s only kind of right. The Longhorns were short on time, but the running game had been just fine. Instead, they opted to put it in the hands of Ash.
So, what does this mean going forward for Texas and Ash? Saturday, he was a game-saver. But what’s his identity now?
“You know, one drive doesn’t have any affect on another drive,” Ash said. “One game doesn’t have any affect on another game.”
We’ll see at Texas if it does because this was the kind of game and the last drive was the kind of drive that can change an outlook, or even a season. And looking ahead to next week, by the way things looked this week, Ash may be called on to do even more.
Smith and West Virginia put up crazy stats in a 70-63 victory over Baylor. All signs point to needing Ash to do some of the same next week when Smith and his Mountaineers come to Austin.
After all, Ash has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception this season. He had a streak of 115-consecutive passes without an interception end Saturday, but after throwing that clunker inside the OSU red zone early in the third quarter, he rallied.
The next time Ash got on the field, he led the Horns on a 13-play, 75-yard drive, finishing it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley. Ash was 6-for-6 on the drive. Perfect.
But you wouldn’t know it because he floated in out of our sightline in the fourth quarter.
What we do know is Texas is unbeaten and has a road Big 12 victory.
What we don’t know is how much Ash will be counted on in the future.
“I don’t know what David’s potential is,” Harsin said. “Just getting better every week. That’s the focus. That’s what it’s all about. It’s improving and getting better. If he’ll continue to do that, that’s all we ask.”
Looks like he might have to do even more next week.
“He will not be under any more pressure than this,” Brown said. “He’s the leader of this football team.”