Strong told reporters Monday that Ash won’t play against BYU this weekend due to concussion-like symptoms. Ash, who missed 10 games last season due to concussion symptoms, took a hit Saturday against North Texas -- the first blow he took, according to the coach -- and reported lingering effects hours later. Strong said Tyrone Swoopes will start in Ash’s stead.
This is unfortunate news for Texas on a couple of levels. The Longhorns won’t have the luxury of a proven quarterback for the foreseeable future. Even after taking a few hits against North Texas, Ash completed 19-of-34 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. He also brought veteran experience to a program that's been breaking in a new era. It’s hard to overstate exactly how important Ash’s presence is for Texas.
You could make the case that no player in the Big 12 would have a bigger influence on his team's win total than Ash. — David Ubben (@davidubben) September 1, 2014
Strong told reporters that his roster can survive Ash’s absence. “We can function,” the coach said. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
That might be true, but it'll take some proving over the coming weeks. There's no denying Swoopes doesn’t bring the same experience that Ash does. Swoopes saw limited action in six games as a true freshman in 2013, though he now has an entire offseason under his belt. Swoopes must face a BYU team that famously gouged Texas for an embarrassing 40-21 loss one year ago. On Friday night the Cougars' defense limited UConn to 10 points and 4.5 yards per play in a win. UConn is no Texas, but the Longhorns will also be without center Dom Espinosa against BYU after the starter fractured his leg Saturday.
If Ash is sidelined for longer than one week, he'll miss Texas' neutral-site meeting with UCLA before the Longhorns embark on their Big 12 slate. Perhaps Strong will decide to lean more heavily on the run while Swoopes finds his footing under center. Texas isn’t without talent in the backfield, where Johnathan Grey and Malcolm Brown combined for two touchdowns and 5.1 yards per carry against North Texas.
As a coach, Strong’s primary concern is to win games, but he obviously must consider the safety of his players. The biggest decision likely lies in Ash's hands, as he might need to seriously evaluate his own football future. Even though Ash had been cleared to return to workouts in the offseason, concussion issues have come to define the latter half of the quarterback’s career. Given the severity of head injuries, Ash’s priority should be to avoid health problems that could creep into his post-football life.