As I rewatched the 2012 Alamo Bowl, I experienced an old familiar feeling during the second half. An experience that has been missing during the last few years of watching Longhorn offensive football. That game, as you may recall, was a tale of two halves. The first half was perhaps the most frustrating half of offensive football I've ever seen, save for the previous two Oklahoma games. The running backs couldn't find any room and frequently got swallowed up behind the line of scrimmage, short passes to the WR's yielded little to no run after catch, and the icing on the cake was David Ash's derp moment of the year where a pump fake became a fumble-pass.
Then something happened in the second half: David Ash started running. Now, I'm not simple minded enough to think that Ash's running was even the primary variable accounting for the new found offensive success in the second half, much less the only variable. But the addition of the QB draw and the decision to let Ash run on broken pass plays had an undeniable effect.
Let's briefly talk numbers, even though they're damn liars if you believe Mark Twain. Texas converted 1/8 3rd downs in the first half. That conversion rate went up to 4/8 in the second half. Also noteworthy, David Ash had a per carry average of 7.25 yards on QB draws and 4.25 avg on scrambles, which includes a 5 yard loss on a sack. Overall, DAsh had a YPC of 5.75 in the second half. Not bad.
But numbers don't tell the whole story. You have to see it for yourself. What I saw for the first time in over four years was a Texas offense that could match up against a stout defense and make things happen. That old feeling that came back for the first time since 2008 was the tingle of excitement that comes from watching a Texas offense go up against an evenly matched defense and pick them apart. As the second half progressed, particularly in the 4th quarter you could see the development of what happens when a defense has to account for an opposing QB that poses a credible running threat. Of course, to capitalize on that, the offense has to sufficiently demonstrate the threat as credible.
Observe...(sorry for the links instead of embedded video. Couldn't get the embeds to start at the right time stamp)
3rd and 8 after a false start on Donald Hawkins Ash drops back to pass then scrambles left for what looks on the video to be a first down, but a holding penalty on Luke Poehlman brings it back. Ash shows his athleticism in this play, although, technically his decision to take off running doesn't happen until Poehlman executes a Judo-style takedown of the DL at Ash's feet. Marquise Goodwin has the awareness to come back and pick up a good block to help Ash get to the perimeter. The drive stalls on the next play when a 9 yard screen pass to DJ Monroe fails to pick up the needed 13 yards. Thank you, O-line.
Next slide *Click*, Here we have David Ash on a play action pass making a quick decision to tuck and run after he feels pressure coming from the right side before any receivers have a chance to come open. After he tacks off, he manages to make a defender miss with a nice little cut and wisely dives to pick up a tidy 9 yards. Unfortunately, that pressure he felt before he took off was mitigated by another Judo-style takedown. Whoever decided that Judo lessons needed to be integrated into the S&C regimen needs to answer for these. Holding penalty makes it 1st and 20. Ugh.
3rd and 4 after a quick pass to Goodwin, Ash takes a QB draw up to the sideline yards to pick a first down after punishing a defender with a lowered non-throwing shoulder out of bounds.
Two plays later Ash takes a QB draw 11 yards into the endzone after hurdling two defenders and shows that he's kind of into this running the ball thing.
On 2nd and 8, Ash takes a draw play 6 yards to set up a 3rd and short.
1st and 10 on the first scoring drive of the fourth quarter. Ash drops back to pass, then decides to tuck and run and picks up 7 yards after making a defender miss on a little stutter step.
Later on that drive Ash doesn't rush the ball, but shows great escapability before tossing the sideline pass that Johnathan Gray takes into the endzone to make it a one possession game.
On the next drive, 2nd and 7, Ash scrambles for 6 yards to set up a 3rd and short. A few plays later, after Johnathan Gray picks up the first down from the Wildcat, Ash tosses the game winning touchdown to Marquise Goodwin by throwing to a spot in the endzone and trusting Goodwin's speed would get him there in time to make the catch.
The contrast between the two halves demonstrated to these eyes that measured use of Ash's running ability will help Major Applewhite's offense reach it's full potential. We've seen Ash run a bit in previous games, but I don't recall another game with as many designed runs for Ash, or a game in which two different halves of offense were juxtaposed, a half of incompetent offense followed by a half of strong offense where the key difference was adding in a good measure of QB running.
As Scipio pointed out, the No Huddle Offense under Major Applewhite will mean more hits on the QB, and with the depth situation behind Ash such as it is I wouldn't suggest that we make QB rushes a major part of our offense. However, in a game like the Alamo Bowl, where the offense clearly needs a spark, we have clear evidence that taking the reigns off Ash and letting him run the ball can be a very effective way to get that spark. I'm not suggesting that Ash is a rusher on the level of Johny Football, but as the numbers and video evidence show, he's big, tough, hard to bring down, and quick enough to do some damage. What say ye? Have I over-emphasized the variable of Ash's rushing and under-emphasized the other variables at play?