The quarterback position can often make or break the success of a team, and for the Texas Longhorns, David Ash may be the epitome of that situation this season.
The sophomore signal caller has performed solidly so far this season, but is it enough to project the proper development that can slingshot the Longhorns to a Big 12 title or a BCS appearance?
With the number of playmakers on offense and a defense that should eventually come around into one of the Big 12's best, Ash may not have to win games on his own. Sure, he may very well have to sling the ball in order to secure a couple of victories this season, but with the quality surrounding the quarterback, the Longhorns are far from a one-man show.
With that said, Ash has taken strides from his freshman season that only implicates further development down the road, creating a polarizing buzz around the former Belton standout.
As the most scrutinized position in the game, the quarterback simply holds several keys to success.
So with two games down and ten more to go, and with the season far from over, it is time for a report card for the Longhorns' quarterback.
The best news for the Longhorns is that David Ash has not succumbed to turnovers. Yes, he did have a fumbled snap against Wyoming, but in terms of delivering the ball to the opposing defense by way of mistaken throw and/or poor decision, Ash has done well to avoid those situations. (To be fair, though, he should have had an interception against New Mexico).
Similarly, Ash has done a great job of not trying to force the issue with the offense. He has let the coaching staff dictate the flow of the game, and he has performed nicely in the managing role. His decisions to utilize the tools around him to generate the brunt of the offensive gains is slowly developing confidence for the entire unit. Frankly, he is doing the most to prevent breakdowns offensively.
These short strides to establish comfort and rhythm offensively are what may transform into a better overall product by the end of the season, expectedly anyway.
But there is little question that he still needs growth if Texas is to come out of the Big 12 on top.
Although there are few reasons to flame about David Ash's early-season efforts, there will always be higher expectations in Texas.
In the development of a better passing game, who would not want to see Ash take more shots down the field? Is it a product of the coaching staff unwilling to truly throw Ash into the fire after a lackluster freshman season, or is it the quarterback's decision to continually play it safe?
Has the simple management of the offense properly prepared Ash for the upcoming gauntlet that is the first set of Big 12 games? Facing Oklahoma St, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor is no easy road for any team, much less a quarterback who plainly has not taken the bigger leaps that can lift the offense to even higher standards of performance.
Additionally, Ash's decision making needs to be a second or two quicker. He is missing opportunities that could bring about nice gains and more confidence, but the slow reads and lack of precision on some throws are limiting his true capabilities right now as a passer.
So while those issues may not show their true negatives against the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico, the real lag may come against better competition, and that should warrant some concern from the Texas faithful. How good will Ash be against the best on the schedule?
If Texas is to take its next step in reestablishing its claim as one of the country's top programs, Ash simply has to make a big leap in the passing game.
We have seen his athleticism as a scrambler. He is savvy in utilizing the short passing game, but his efforts going deep and his touch on the long throws will be what continually harnesses the Texas offense. Without a good mix of short and long passing attacks, in other words, with an underdeveloped offense, Texas will struggle to compete against top teams.
With the Longhorns facing a couple of formidable opponents in Ole Miss and Oklahoma State in their upcoming contests, Ash will have ample opportunities to refine his throws. Texas may be in a position needing to score points in a hurry, so having the capability to throw long passes is something the Longhorns surely will embrace if and when possible.
To transform into a next level passer, Ash will be able to elevate the play of the entire offense and maybe match the team's defensive potential, rounding the edges for what could be a really good Longhorns team in 2012 and beyond.
The Longhorns are simply taking no chances at a repeat of their 2009 BCS National Championship run.
When Colt McCoy suffered a shoulder injury, thus, removing him from the game in its early stages, Texas looked to a true freshman in Garrett Gilbert. The Austin native was thrown into the fire against a top-tier Alabama defense and did surprisingly well despite not having enough meaningful snaps during the season.
Although the circumstances are vastly different these days, the importance of getting Case McCoy some playing time is underrated. Knowing full well that Ash's deep game is still very much a work in-progress, McCoy is still in a position to make a difference if called upon.
In short, Texas has handled its quarterback "controversy" about as well as it could be managed. The Longhorns have put the vast majority of its chips on Ash's cards, but McCoy's deck is still very much a playable hand. It is just a matter of finding the right times to play them.
The general word for the quarterback position at Texas is solid—not great, but not terrible.
Ash, as the main guy under center, has never put the Longhorns in a position to lose, a far cry from what he did last season as a freshman.
Ash's development as a quarterback and an offensive manager has been a nice process, but his growth at a somewhat slow pace may cause some concerns as the schedule is about to heat up really quickly for Texas.
The coaching staff's intent to get McCoy enough snaps may pay off generously down the road if Ash falls into a rut. Having the backup comfortable in the offense and available to execute the whole playbook is a good situation to have, and McCoy seems to be taking his role in strides.
At the end of the day, there is still plenty more to improve upon at the position, but it is hard to complain about a quarterback who has minimized his mistakes and consistently has engineered scoring drives against inferior competition. But will it come against better opponents?