That's the money quote from an article I wrote in early August about David Ash and leadership.
My preview was correct in breaking down OSU's personnel (particularly noting their upgrade at DT), but I was dead wrong on their predicted defensive strategy. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young abandoned his usual bend-but-don't-break philosophy, killed the Longhorn running game for three quarters with numbers and blitzes, and dared David Ash and the Longhorn receivers to beat top notch cornerbacks placed on islands. Which Texas did.
Harsin pulled double duty as OC and DC and, as against Ole Miss, we saw him consciously play call with our defense and the total team in mind. Harsin robbed possessions from the OSU offense, particularly in the second half of the contest when it was clear that the Cowboys would score every time they had the ball. OSU only had five possessions in the second half and scored on four of them (27 plays, 251 yards, 9.3 yards per play, 2 TDs, 2 FGs) the only non-score when they took over with 0:29 seconds left in the game on their 25 yard line and the defense finally got a stop. In that half, the Longhorn offense had the ball for 20:32 compared to OSU's 9:28 and scored three touchdowns in five possessions (Ash interception, one punt).
Despite racking up 440 yards and putting 34 offensive points on the board, it wasn't all glory for the offense. I wrote in my preview that this game would be a great litmus test for our OL - can they impose their will from the opening whistle on comparable athletes or stacked fronts? - and we found out that answer is no. Which we probably already suspected. That means any decent team that wants to deny our running game can if they're willing to allow the Longhorn passing game some operating space. But the better Ash and our receivers play, the more cloudy that calculus gets.
Can we promote him from game manager to game director? Game Senior Executive? Every time he plays, he shows another facet of his understanding and another part of his skill set. Even his interception made sense. And after that miscue, he went 14 of 16 for 130 yards. You want a QB who shrugs at his mistake and has the confidence to come back on another crossing route a few possessions later, when the game hinges on the outcome. Ash had a number of money throws, ranging from his cool-as-ice conversion to DJ Grant on the aforementioned crossing route on the 4th and 6 that will be written into Longhorn legend, a gorgeous 44 yard TD pass to Jaxon Shipley that can't be thrown better, and several clutch 3rd down conversions. He even converted the Shipley audible wheel route TD throw that he missed against Ole Miss. With the game on the line, Ash threw great balls, took smart risks, and salvaged broken plays.
Ash is still a work in progress, but his current growth rate is Andre The Giant, age 13. He'll be swinging his leg over the top rope by TCU. The #2 ranked passer in the NCAA. What odds would that bet garner in Vegas pre-season?
I thought they were better than against Ole Miss despite less gaudy statistics because the corners they were facing were top notch. Mike Davis fought for the ball like it had Grandpa's medicine in it, climbing the ladder on his 32 yard reception, and also earning a 15 yard defensive pass interference call in another one-on-one situation. Yes, he dropped a sure TD pass, but instead of checking out, he doubled down on effort. All you can ask. Jaxon Shipley completely dominated (5-82-3tds), and Marquise Goodwin garnered enough deep ball respect to work underneath for several key 3rd down conversions. DJ Grant's only catch of the game was kind of important. It isn't a great statistic that of our 30 pass completions, exactly 1 went to a TE.
Regrettably, our TEs hit their expected wall against larger DE personnel and OSU really did a nice job attacking us on the edge in the running game with numbers and occasional manhandling of our extra blocking surfaces.
As they've been all this year, this group was an asset in the passing game, with 15 catches for 116 yards, helping to move the chains and to wear OSU down. Opposing defenses may be able to take away our running game, but that doesn't mean they can take away our Running Backs.
This was Johnathan Gray's coming out party with 12 carries for 68 yards, including some wicked cuts from the Wildcat. He took over in the 4th quarter against a tired OSU front and was an important spark for the win after Brown left the game with an ankle in the 1st half. Joe Bergeron ran hard (15-48-1) through some minor injuries, but it was tough sledding with OSU outnumbering Texas at the line of scrimmage and their DTs did a tremendous job on our interior OL. Harsin limited him to inside zone runs, mostly because we couldn't seal the edge and running outside isn't a great idea against numbers.
Daje Johnson showed great resilience and power, manufacturing a number of positive gains when the play should have gone for a negative. The young man will continue to get his touches and he possesses an important potential for one play scoring.
These guys aren't good enough yet to impose their will on any DL they face nor overcome numbers, but they got it done. The Cowboys had two sacks on 40+ passing plays and the Texas OL allowed only six negative plays on 80. The coaches awarded Luke Poehlmann with OL player of the game and that's as much a tribute to his play as the fact that no one on the OL really shined. Everyone had a developmental moment or two. If you're disappointed with our OL, that's because now you have actual expectations of them. Which were absent from any reasonable observer last year. This was the first big boy front they've seen and they learned some important in-game lessons. In the deepest rounds of the fight, the Texas offense had two back-to-back touchdown drives covering 150 yards on 17 plays, running the ball up OSU's ass on the first, and then keeping Ash alive on the two minute drill to win the game on the second. No way they were capable of that last year.
This game was a very positive step for them. Particularly if Searels can get everyone healthy for WVU.
I thought that if we could tie or win here, we probably win the game. That held up. DJ Monroe continues to stake his claim to the Gaskamp Award, showing power, speed, and decisiveness on a key 100 yard kick return. He's now the all-time Longhorn kick off return TD leader. Congrats, Donald Jr.
The pooch kick to OSU was silly, gifted them with the ball on the Longhorn 43 yard line, and broke an already breaking defense. There were no wind conditions to speak of and on the ensuing kick, Nick Rose drove the ball easily five yards deep into the end zone. I don't really understand the incessant desire to tinker, but the coaches need to trust that in proper wind conditions, Nick Rose is going to be money on these kickoffs. Leave it alone and stop trying to impose upon the game. I'd rather rely on Rose's leg than our tackling.
We saw significant strides forward for a young QB in a hostile environment with the game on his shoulders running two minute drill and being asked to carry the entire offense, more growth from our wide receiver corps, and a sobering reminder that while this offense is vastly improved, it's not personnel dominant. They have to win by fighting and clawing on every possession and I'm having a blast watching them do it.