Ash injury ups Strong’s degree of difficulty
I’m betting Charlie Strong’s research on his new program didn’t include watching the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game.
If he did, though, he’ll encounter the most troubling truth facing his first squad of Longhorns.
You can’t win a Big 12 title without a difference maker at quarterback.
Jason White, Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Landry Jones, Brandon Weeden, Collin Klein and Bryce Petty spent the last decade proving it.
Nebraska’s 2009 team delivered the theory’s most difficult test.
The Huskers were third nationally in defensive yards per play and turned in one of the best defensive performances ever in a Big 12 title game, sacking Colt McCoy six times (4.5 from All-Everything Ndamukong Suh, who had 7.5 tackles for loss in AT&T Stadium that night) Bo Pelini’s defense limited an offense that averaged 39.3 points to just 13, and Texas only had 10 before kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Nebraska had one of the best Big 12 defenses ever, with impact players on every level. It had a solid running game that relied on a pair of future NFL draft picks in Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.
That Nebraska team famously came a second short of winning the league, but it also lost three games and two in the Big 12.
Which brings us back to Texas. (You knew I’d bring it back eventually, right?)
Charlie Strong’s had a relatively headline-free tenure at Texas once boosters stopped flinging poorly informed insults his way following his hire.
Friday evening, he got a big, bad one.
(Probably) starting quarterback David Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his foot and would miss the rest of spring after undergoing surgery.
Not long after, Texas announced Ash was given a medical redshirt after missing 10 games with concussions in 2013 and would remain a junior for the 2014 season.
Is Ash a game-changing quarterback capable of winning a Big 12 title?
More often, the answer is no.
He showed enough potential that he could eventually mature into one of the league’s best, but doing so would likely require a full offseason of studying a new system from OCs Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline on and off the field.
Every practice was precious.
Right now, Texas doesn’t have that game-changing quarterback on its roster, but Ash is the closest thing to it. Maybe this year. Maybe next.
Tyrone Swoopes’ athleticism had fans drooling last spring, but his passing ability left plenty to be desired in spot duty his freshman year.
Strong’s calling card has always been his defenses, and at Texas, he already has the athletes to field a great one. That’s only going to grow.
But like Nebraska proved, you can’t win the Big 12 without a great quarterback, no matter how special your defense may be.
Over a nine-game schedule, there will be days you need to score 40 to win. Probably more than one.
And Texas’ defense this year will not feature a pair of top 20 picks like Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara.
The biggest concern for Ash entering 2014 was staying healthy, but most had his concussion history in mind when they broach that question, not his foot.
A broken foot’s not a death blow for his maturation, but it doesn’t help.
It may, though, help Texas convince USC transfer Max Wittek to join the team. His high school coach told CBS on Friday that he was "leaning toward Texas" but hadn’t made a decision.
Simply put, Strong’s job at Texas just got a little bit harder.
The easiest scenario for him to build a championship team at Texas was for Ash to stay healthy and continue his progress from a horrific freshman season to a sophomore year with plenty of bright spots. He was off to a decent start, despite Texas’ losses, in 2013, topping his passer rating from 2012 in the three games he played.
Ash can’t seem to catch a break, from a rib injury late in 2012 to last year’s concussion issues to Friday’s announcement of his broken foot.
The window is open for Swoopes to inch closer to a starting spot, and perhaps Wittek could do the same if he transfers.
Both could benefit from the unfortunate news.
Most importantly, neither will Texas.