|David Ash's late game heroics have Texas believing after beating Oklahoma State. (AO)|
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Confidence wasn't something that you could find much of on the 40 Acres the past two seasons. Turnovers, blown assignments, a lack of quarterback play and struggles in all three phases of the game contributed to decidedly un-Texas like play that ended up forcing the marquee program to reinvent itself.
It was a long, painful road from mediocrity to contention but thanks to quarterback David Ash's late game heroics at Oklahoma State Saturday night there's finally budding optimism that the Longhorns are what we thought they could be: good. Not great mind you, but at the very least good.
“I told them this was perfect,” Mack Brown said to his team late in the 4th quarter. “We told the defense if you'll hold them to a field goal, we'll win the game. We told the offense the same thing, they're going to hold them to a field goal and you're going to win the game. This is going to be great.”
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Coming into the season the questions about the Longhorns centered on their quarterback, most figuring that a stout defense which looked sharp last year would help power them into the conference title discussion if there could be any sort of production from Ash. After three warm up games and a true test on the road against the defending Big 12 champions, the script has been flipped. The defense looks flawed as the enter a tough stretch of games but Texas certainly has an answer under center.
After Ash threw his first interception of the season (following a stretch of 116 passes with a pick) against the Cowboys, but the sophomore led the team on three scoring drives in the next four series, including the game-winning 75-yard drive that opened everyone's eyes to the fact that this isn't the same old David Ash and it isn't the same old Texas.
“He couldn't have done this at this time last year,” Brown said. “He has really grown up. He's the leader of this football team.”
It was evident how calm and collected Ash was when he hit tight end D.J. Grant for a 29-yard gain after facing 4th-and-2 deep in his own territory on the final drive. That was followed up by a 32-yard strike to Mike Davis that set up the winning score in which Ash simply gave his receiver a chance to make a play after dropping a sure touchdown earlier.
“I told the guys to do their job, right then wasn't a time to be scared to make a mistake, it was a time to give it everything you have,” Ash said. “I couldn't be more proud of the team and how they responded in a tough situation.
“The team came together and got it done.”
Ash may not be Geno Smith, who will trot into Austin next Saturday carrying the September Heisman after eight touchdown passes earlier in the day, but he is good enough for the team to win games in a wide-open Big 12. This is a different Texas team and that was never more evident against Oklahoma State, as a squad that has spent two years learning and growing from experiences turned them into a win with moxie and plays when they needed them. The Longhorns are not world-beaters but they're ahead of schedule if the defense can tighten up after allowing 576 yards to redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh making his first start for the Cowboys.
As the team was walking off the field in victory, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz paused to take a moment from the raucous celebration to wipe the sweat from his forehead off. He took another moment to look down at his feet and shake his head in relief before hugging Brown in a warm embrace that said plenty about what the program has gone through to get to this point.
'Escape,' the two men were no doubt thinking and that's what they did in the 40-36 thriller to open Big 12 conference play thanks to late game heroics not seen in years by Texas.
“The only thing that was important for us was to win. We're on the road and need to win against a team that has beaten us twice in a row,” said Brown. “We needed to get into a position where our leadership had to step up and help us when we got in trouble.”
The past two seasons have aged Mack Brown more than any other during his time at pressure-packed Texas, faltering to 13 wins at a program accustomed to winning that in a single year. You could sense the frustration after losses, the retooling of the staff a sign that the team would be adjusting to a different landscape from the one they were so accustomed to after top 10 finish year-after-year.
Now he's got a quarterback and a 4-0 team that is believing it will win every time out. Confidence has finally returned to Texas, it remains to be seen how far it will take them.