David Ash’s broken foot last week was just the latest in a line of unfortunate events for the young signal caller. The timing was almost ironic in that he had just been granted a medical redshirt for his lost 2013 season, giving him two more years of eligibility. Luckily, that’s two years where he can receive some quality coaching from Shawn Watson. Hopefully he can stay healthy for those two years.
Ash’s career has been marked by both misfortune and mismanagement. His treatment has been symptomatic of deeper issues that Mack Brown and his staff had, especially when it came to the quarterback position. Mack basically gambled on being able to recruit superb athletes at the position and then getting by on their skills and continued health. When it worked, it worked beautifully; but when the well ran dry Mack found himself in a hole of his own creating. One he’d never be able to dig out of.
Ideally, when Ash arrived in the fall of 2011, he should have redshirted for a year. Texas already had an established starter in Garrett Gilbert, a backup with limited game experience in Case McCoy, and redshirt freshman Connor Wood. This is about how a college coach should want his QB depth chart to look.
Things quickly changed. Ash won the heart of then Offensive Coordinator Brian Harsin; who created a special package in order to get Ash on the field quickly, a move predicated in part by uncertainty surrounding Gilbert. When Ash passed Wood on the depth chart, Wood packed his bags and headed for Colorado.
Although a redshirt season would have been preferable, using Ash in a limited scope in a special package could have been an effective use of his talents and allowed him to ease into the world of major college ball. That didn’t happen. Gilbert flamed out in the second game of the season and would never throw another pass for the Horns. This forced Case into the starter’s role.
McCoy was no stranger to Mack’s QB shenanigans. As a freshman, Case found himself as the No 2 QB when senior Sherrod Harris became disillusioned when Mack made it clear that there would be no competition for the starting position and quit. In the season opener at Rice, Brown burned McCoy’s redshirt to have him hand off at the tail end of a comfortable win.
Case then spent the rest of that disastrous season watching from sidelines. Against Kansas State, Gilbert threw 5 first half interceptions but Mack refused to pull him. When questioned as to why McCoy never got in the game, Mack threw Case under the bus, stating that by the time Case was ready, Gilbert had the offense moving. Granted, they were down 39-0 but hey, it is what it is, right coach?
Mack had multiple opportunities to get his untested backup some meaningful snaps in blowout losses to UCLA, KSU and Oklahoma State and didn’t do it. Nor did he do so in a blowout win over Florida Atlantic. So when McCoy ascended to starter in early 2011, he was basically a blank page.
To be honest, he did the same thing to Gilbert in 2009. Even though he knew that Colt McCoy was going to graduate and despite the fact that there were several blowout wins that year, Mack never gave Gilbert or Harris a chance to really get their feet wet and play like it mattered. He settled for having Gilbert hand off and throw a handful of lateral passes. That move would ultimately backfire on him.
Now, Ash’s package became more important and his playing time increased. He then whetted the appetites of Longhorn Nation with a pair of pretty touchdown passes in relief of an ineffective McCoy against Iowa State. Red River Massacre III followed against Oklahoma, a loss that magnified many of the programs warts. When Case showed his immaturity by refusing to reenter the game after being pulled, Ash, who had thrown a total of 40 passes in his career, became a starter.
His first start came against an Oklahoma State squad that almost played for a National Championship that year. Ash played decent, completing 22 of 40 against a stout defense, but he managed to keep the team competitive. What followed were two golden opportunities for Mack to get his true freshman QB some quality experience: home games against overmatched opponents Kansas and Texas Tech.
Instead, Mack opted for easy wins, choosing to pound them with the running game and severely limiting Ash, who only threw 25 passes combined in the two wins with only 7 attempts against Tech. Not only did he deprive Ash of needed reps, but he managed to get both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron hurt in the process.
When the Longhorns went to Folsom Field to face Missouri, the Horns were down their top two running backs and one of their best WR (Jaxon Shipley). Then, Fozzy Whittaker went down with an injury on the first possession of the game. Now, the Longhorns found themselves in a hostile environment against a quality opponent in difficult weather conditions with a true freshman QB who had barely thrown the ball and almost no weapons to help him out. It’s no wonder Ash failed in this game. McCoy could do no better when he replaced Ash in the second half.
The next week, the depleted offense still couldn’t generate any points against Kansas State and Mack yanked Ash after two interceptions. He didn’t trust the true freshman and went back to Case. Case did get the Horns a late touchdown, but he could get the team no closer in a 17-13 loss.
Mack went back to Case as the starter for the last two games of that year. One was the Eternal Scoreboard Game against Texas A&M where Case made his legend, though he probably gets too much credit for the win. The other was a loss to Baylor in the game that cemented Robert Griffin III’s Heisman. In that game, Case played well in the first half before the Baylor defense got wise and began forcing the weak-armed McCoy into mistakes,which led to a Baylor blowout.
Clearly at the insistence of Harsin, Ash was named starter for the Holiday Bowl and the improvement was noticeable. Ash wasn’t perfect, but he both caught and threw for a TD and made no major mistakes in the win. At this point, it was clear to all that Ash was the more talented QB. Mack could have definitively named Ash the starter and allowed him to take command of the team in off-season workouts but he did not, stating only that he would compete for the spot. Obviously, Mack didn’t trust Ash.
David Ash then displayed skills that would have put him up there with UT greats. With the exception of another OU bloodbath, Ash was arguably the teams best player in the first half of 2012. He put up gaudy stats and led a late game-winning drive at Oklahoma State.
Then came a tough day in Kansas in harsh conditions similar to the Missouri game from the year before. Again in a close game, Mack panicked and pulled Ash for Case. The Horns scored a TD without benefit of a pass to tie the game, then gave the lead back. Needing a late drive to win, Case gift wrapped a pick six that a Kansas defensive back was kind enough to drop. To his credit, Case then hit a pair of big throws to get the Horns to the goalline before throwing the winning pass. Texas escaped the game, but Mack had betrayed his lack of faith in his Ash.
Ash responded with solid outings against Tech and Iowa St, but suffered a rib injury against ISU which clearly bothered him on Thanksgiving night against TCU. Mack has since admitted that Ash never should have played in that game. Instead, Ash started but was pulled in favor of McCoy again,
Ash caught a break when McCoy was sent home before the 2012 Alamo Bowl when McCoy and Jordan Hicks were caught up in off-field trouble. Knowing that he was going to finish the game and not needing to look over his shoulder, Ash was able to settle down after a rocky start and rallied the team in the second half. He ran for a touchdown and threw two more in the comeback victory over Oregon State. Again, we were scintillated by Ash’s potential.
Unfortunately, potential was all we would see. Although Mack finally did name David the starter, Ash had his season cut short when Applewhite inexplicably kept calling his number on running plays late in a game that was already out of hand. Why he chose to keep running Ash, we may never know.
Now, Ash has a concussion history that will follow him around and a foot injury that can be tricky to recover from. His career seems to hang in the balance, but that’s not a surprise, he’s been hanging by a thread the whole time. Mack did him no favors in his first three years. Now he will miss important reps under the new regime as well.
The team is still paying for Mack’s failures. Once again in 2013, with a senior QB starting, Mack had opportunities to get Tyrone Swoopes playing time and failed to do so. Instead he burned Swoopes’ redshirt in order to have him hand off and throw lateral passes. Stop me if this sounds familiar. Again, it came back to hurt him when McCoy was horrible in the Alamo Bowl and he had no option but to throw Swoopes into the fire.
Mack Brown leaves a mighty legacy in his wake, but it is a tarnished legacy and nowhere is that more apparent than in his QBs. His reluctance to prepare back ups cost him no less than a Big XII title, and possibly a title shot, in 2006 and that same failure cost him again in 2009. He short circuited the promising career of an established star in Applewhite in order to appease Chris Simms and his NFL dad. He then promised the son of another former NFL quarterback a starting job without having to compete for it, a mistake that started the snowball rolling down the hill towards him.
Now, the Longhorns have an injured starter, an untested backup with a wasted year of eligibility and a converted WR/TE as the only quarterbacks on the roster. It is almost vital that Charlie Strong lands USC transfer Max Wittek, just to stabilize the depth chart if nothing else.
As for David Ash, it is too soon to write the full story of his career, yet he stands as a lasting testament to the failures of the old regime. Hopefully, he can transcend that and became a beacon of what is right with the new one.