TEXAS WILL WIN IF… It takes care of the ball. As a freshman, David Ash was shelved as the Longhorns' starting quarterback after throwing eight interceptions in five games in October and November, leading to the "musical chairs" approach at the position between Ash and Case McCoy. Through two games in 2012, it's been all Ash, in no small part because he's yet to throw an interception in 49 attempts. As a team, Texas has turned the ball over just once, on a fumbled snap by Ash in the opener.
But the young quarterback hasn't been seriously tested by the defenses of Wyoming and New Mexico, against which UT has been content to keep the ball mainly in the hands of its deep stable of running backs and restrict Ash to short, conservative throws. Only one of his 36 completions has covered more than 25 yards, and even that was a glorified handoff to freshman Daje Johnson, who turned it into a 45-yard touchdown. (Ash's other touchdown pass vs. the Lobos, a 22-yard throw to junior Mike Davis, was also mainly the result of Adams shaking several defenders after the catch.) It will also be Ash's first road start since a dismal 17-5 loss at Missouri last November. Against Texas' defense, Ole Miss will likely need at least one timely, field-flipping turnover in its favor if it's going to have any kind of shot at the upset.
OLE MISS WILL WIN IF… It stops the run. The Rebels finished dead last in the SEC in rushing defense last year for the second season in a row, a major reason they came in dead last in total and scoring defense, as well: With the exception of Kentucky, every SEC offense Ole Miss faced in 2011 racked up at least 200 yards on the ground. That, in turn, made life much more difficult for the pass rush and secondary, which rarely had the luxury of facing offenses in predictable passing downs and were more susceptible to play-action passes as a result. The ongoing absence of linebacker D.T. Shackelford to a lingering knee injury doesn't help, either.
Initially, returns against Central Arkansas (100 yards on 35 carries) and UTEP (37 yards on 30 carries) have been encouraging, but of course Central Arkansas and UTEP are not Texas, which has the potential to boast the best ground game in the Big 12. If the Rebels have any hope of forcing Ash out of his comfort zone and cashing in on a big turnover or two, it's by controlling the line of scrimmage on first and second down and bringing some rarely seen heat on third-and-long.
X-FACTOR: The Longhorns looked somewhat vulnerable against the run last week, yielding 206 yards to New Mexico on 4.4 per carry. Ole Miss will attempt to exploit that with two veteran backs, Jeff Scott and Randall Mackey, and quarterback Bo Wallace, a junior college transfer who leads the team with 135 yards on 24 carries. If they get into any kind of rhythm on the ground, the Rebels may look for a quick strike on a trick play involving Mackey, who started six games last year at quarterback and can conceivably line up anywhere on the field on any play.