The No. 15 Texas Longhorns travel to Provo, Utah, Saturday night to take on unranked BYU in their first road game of the season. It will be the fourth time the Longhorns and Cougars have played, with BYU leading the series 2-1.
The last meeting came in 2011 in Austin, Texas. In that game, BYU hit the Longhorns' offense straight in the mouth, causing a drastic shift in the future of Texas football.
Looking Back: BYU vs. Texas, September 10, 2011
This game would be junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert's last career start as a Longhorn and would eventually lead to the David Ash era.
But the Ash era did not begin the way most young college quarterbacks in his situation would have dreamed.
Imagine being a 19-year-old freshman watching your predecessor—who was a consensus 5-star recruit and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2009 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com—get booed out of his own stadium. The boos were so loud that even the game announcer remarked, "A shower of boos raining down on Gilbert." Don't believe me? See for yourself.
Now imagine being in that hostile home atmosphere and your coach looks to you to help lead your team to victory. That's what Ash faced on September 10, 2011.
Welcome to college football, David Ash!
Ash intended to redshirt his freshman year. But those intentions were cut short in the Longhorns' 2011 season opener against Rice.
His career began the moment Gilbert was benched after throwing two interceptions against BYU. Ash was the first quarterback off the bench in that game, but he and sophomore quarterback Case McCoy would ultimately rotate 20 times in leading the Longhorns to a 17-16, come-from-behind win.
Ash and McCoy continued the quarterback rotation for the majority of the 2011 season.
When asked about his memories from the win over BYU, Ash did not have much to recollect. "I remember I caught a reverse pass, and I remember [BYU] was a good, tough ballclub. I don't remember much else."
Ash may not remember much about that game, but it left quite an impression on other Longhorns.
From senior left guard Trey Hopkins: "I remember a very physical front and a very mature team. [BYU] didn't make a lot of mental mistakes and didn't give up many yards."
From Texas head coach Mack Brown: "It was an ugly game. I remember a family member saying, 'We won 17-16 and it was a great game.' And I said, 'I'm not too sure about that, but it was close and we did win, if that's what you mean by a great game.'"
Senior right guard Mason Walters said, "BYU was a tough, physical football team when we played them in 2011. They played sound football and did not give up big chunks of yards."
What Has Changed for Ash and the Texas Offense Since 2011?
Comparing the 2011 version of Ash to the 2013 version is like comparing night to day.
Ash is a much more experienced player this season and has overcome a lot of adversity as the quarterback at Texas. He even appears to be more comfortable with who he is both on and off the field.
When asked how he has changed since playing BYU in 2011, Ash jokingly replied, "I don't think you want to be here all day listening to the reasons. But I have come a long way since [the 2011 BYU game]. All of the tough times I have faced...made me who I am now."
BYU will see a lot of familiar faces Saturday night. Eleven offensive players who saw action in 2011 are still listed on the Texas two-deep. But the Longhorns' offense the Cougars faced in 2011 is different from what Texas will display Saturday under new play-caller and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
The Longhorns' offense progressed significantly from 2011 to 2012 and has the potential and playmakers to be even better in 2013.
Junior running back Malcolm Brown said, "We have stepped up all aspects of our game and are focusing more on details. Something that held us back these past couple of years was not focusing on details. We could have 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy messes up. Then the whole play is out of whack."
Junior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said, "I think we are light years ahead this year than we were last year and even farther ahead than the year before. We have really developed a two-deep at the wide receiver position, and that's not something we had in the previous two seasons."
Senior wide receiver Mike Davis said, "We are older and more mature. David Ash is phenomenal. He is in control, and I think he's an elite quarterback. The offensive line is better and basically our team as a whole is more mature. Everyone is on the same page and are all in."
Texas head coach Mack Brown said, "The whole year is so much better. We have the chance to be good on both sides of the ball. We have a chance to play good and have a chance to win every week with this team. This team is mature, fast and deep, and we have an experienced quarterback. But the biggest change is we have leaders at every position."
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New Scheme, More Depth, More Weapons
With the Texas offense making the switch to an up-tempo, no-huddle scheme, the Longhorns have the ability to utilize a variety of offensive weapons this season. They also aren't relying on as many young players, unlike 2011, when 17 Texas freshmen saw playing time against BYU. Texas' offensive line has more potential and depth than any previous O-line in the Ash era.
Speaking of Ash, his experience and maturity as the Longhorns' quarterback is better than ever. Ash has shown the ability to win games on the road. In 2011, Ash was 0-1 in road games he started. But in 2012, he was 4-0 in road games as the starting quarterback, not including the Longhorns' win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
Last but certainly not least, Texas' offense has a young player with star potential in sophomore wide receiver Daje Johnson.
Johnson is a player to keep an eye on. Johnson said he models his game after former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin and Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas (subscription required).
A Good Measuring Point for the Longhorns' Offense
Texas' game against BYU will be a good measure of how much the Longhorns' offense has grown over the last two seasons.
BYU may be unranked, but the Cougars are not a bad football team, especially on defense. BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy is an impact player and finished 2012 ranked sixth nationally in tackles for loss (22), fifth in sacks (13) and tied for second in forced fumbles (6).
When asked about Van Noy, Brown said, "[Van Noy] is as good as any player [Texas] will face this year. He scares me the most as a pass-rusher. Our tackles will have a real problem with him."
All in all, the 2011 Texas offense that barely pulled off the win against BYU is not the same unit the Longhorns are today. Texas fans across the nation should be rejoicing in the Longhorns' progress and eager to see what the future holds for Texas.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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