For much of the last two seasons, David Ash has epitomized the state of Texas football. A former four-star recruit and two-time all-state quarterback out of Belton (Texas) High, Ash has tantalizing talent. At his best, the 6-foot-3, 223-pound sophomore can make every throw in the playbook and use his 4.6 40 speed to be a dangerous running threat.
But heading into Saturday night's Alamo Bowl against Oregon State, Ash's career at Austin had been notoriously up-and-down. He was just 17-6 as a starter and consistently came up short in big games; take his 13-for-29, two-interception performance in Texas' 63-21 loss to Oklahoma in October, for example. He has so much promise, but thus far it's gone unfulfilled.
That's something that can be said about the entire Longhorn program. It's completely dropped off since its loss to Alabama in the national title game two years ago.
But that may be changing, because Ash seemed to experience a coming-of-age moment against the Beavers. Texas trailed 20-10 at halftime against a stout Oregon State team, and Ash appeared lost. He had been pulled a few times this season in favor of Case McCoy, and he likely would have been pulled again if McCoy had been in attendance. But McCoy and linebacker Jordan Hicks were suspended following a report that two Texas players were involved in an alleged sexual assault case in a San Antonio hotel. So Mack Brown had no choice to but to stick with Ash. Neither of his two backups had taken a snap all season.
Then, just as it appeared the game was lost, all of Ash's promise suddenly translated into production. He ran several quarterback draws with power. Instead of checking down to running backs and receivers in the flat, he began throwing down field with strength and accuracy. In the fourth quarter, he completed 9-of-11 passes for 146 yards, including a thing of beauty, a 36-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin for the game-winning score with 2:24 to play. The Longhorns won 31-27. And now Texas will remember the Alamo for one reason: It was the night that Ash grew up.
Shaky quarterback play has defined Texas' recent struggles. While Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel have won the last two Heismans playing in the Lone Star State, Longhorns' fans have pined for the days of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, who provided Brown with seven consecutive years of stability at quarterback. Garrett Gilbert was supposed to the next great to follow in the footsteps of Young and McCoy, but he had an inaccurate arm and never panned out.
Along without the program's quarterback woes, Brown admitted that he was so crushed by that national title loss to Alabama that he let his program slide. Texas has gone a combined 22-16 since that cool night in Pasadena. In the face of these struggles, Brown has revamped his staff. There have even been whispers around Austin that it may be time for Brown to step down.
But what transpired in San Antonio had the feel of a program-changing moment. Texas found its quarterback. And with one of the youngest teams in the nation this season -- Texas should return 10 starters on offense alone -- the Longhorns will enter 2013 as one of the favorites to win the Big 12. The Longhorns aren't back yet, but the team sure took a big step forward in San Antonio.