The Ole Miss Rebels fell victim to a virtual passing clinic put on by then-sophomore Texas Longhorns QB David Ash last season in Oxford, Mississippi. However, for Saturday's rematch in Austin, Texas, Ash's playing status remains "questionable" after getting banged up (head/shoulder) pretty bad in last week's 40-21 loss to BYU.
While the ousting of much-maligned former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and the hiring of Greg Robinson to fill his shoes garnered the most press early this week, an equally important story is whether or not Ash will be ready to play against the Rebels.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported, "Texas quarterback David Ash is still questionable for Saturday's game against No. 25 Mississippi and a decision whether he can play may not come until not long before kickoff."
In last year's contest, Ash torched the Rebel secondary for a career-high 326 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-23 passing. Regardless of who you were cheering for, it was a damn impressive performance.
As much as the Ole Miss defense is out for revenge this weekend, it's safe to assume an unavailable Ash would be quietly welcomed by the Rebel coaching staff.
Through only two games in 2013 (New Mexico State and BYU), the Longhorns signal-caller has gone 39-of-62 for 594 yards, six scores and only two picks. Not bad. However, he's at best "questionable" to start at home Saturday night when the Rebels come to town.
If Ash does end up playing, Ole Miss will likely be challenged once again by the Texas passing attack.
But what if he doesn't start or is only able to play for a brief amount of time?
Through their first two games, the Rebels rank No. 69 in average passing yards allowed per game (229.5) and have also pulled in three interceptions (two by DB Cody Prewitt). It's a unit that's not played up to its full potential yet, but has certainly gotten the job done.
During his weekly press conference, Longhorns head coach Mack Brown talked about the options at QB if Ash is ultimately deemed unavailable Saturday:
Case McCoy had a good day yesterday. We've gone back and looked at every play he's played in since he's been here. He came in and played at Kansas last year and I think he was 6-for-8 and completed 75 percent of his passes and scored and won the game. You go back to A&M and he didn't have a touchdown pass but he didn't have a turnover. He managed that game really well. In the game against Baylor two years ago, he ran up and down the field, had over 300 yards passing but had the three turnovers with four touchdown passes. At the Kansas State game last year, I think it was the same thing. He moved the ball really well but had two turnovers for a touchdown. Tyrone Swoopes practiced really well yesterday and obviously if he's in the game we'll just have to be simpler.
While McCoy has only thrown a total of 12 passes for 75 yards this fall, he has seen a fair amount of playing time for the Longhorns over the past two seasons. In 2011 and 2012, McCoy went 142-of-220 for 1,756 yards, 13 scores and seven interceptions. The numbers could be worse, but they could surely be better.
ESPN.com's Max Olson talked about the senior's past performance yielding mixed results:
McCoy has made six career starts. He’s led big wins and comebacks. But don’t forget that, for all his experience, he's been asked to throw 15 or more passes in a game only seven times in his career.
The numbers in those seven games -- five in 2011, two in 2012 -- are indicative of the mixed results he’s had. McCoy had a TD-INT ratio of 8-7 in those games, his average raw QBR was 43.4 and Texas went on to lose five of the seven contests.
McCoy has thrown for 300-plus yards in each of his last two starts -- at Kansas State in 2012 and at Baylor in 2011 -- but that more aggressive passing came with a combined six interceptions. So there are pros and cons to what Texas coaches refer to as McCoy’s gunslinger mentality.
Assuming Ash isn't able to go against Ole Miss, McCoy will be making only his eighth start in which he'll ultimately attempt 15 or more passes. Based on results from the other seven games in which he threw the ball 15-plus times, there's good reason for Burnt Orange nation to be concerned.
But what's Texas got behind McCoy if he stutters under center?
A very talented, young player in 6'4'', 245-pound freshman Tyrone Swoopes.
If McCoy gets off to a shaky start, the boo birds will start singing from the stands of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Moreover, they'll be looking for Swoopes to run onto the field.
Out of high school, the Whitewright, Texas phenom received scholarship offers from just about every major program in the nation, including the likes of Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford and Texas A&M. Bottom line: the kid's got game.
An early enrollee this past spring at Texas, Swoopes made a splash in the Texas spring game. ESPN HornsNation reporter Carter Strickland noted the following:
Freshman Tyrone Swoopes stole the show and the imagination of those watching the Texas spring game. Sure, it was only one series, but it was the first series in which the first-team defense was not only scored on but made to look confused by a freshman and a patchwork line. OK, given where this defense has been -- the worst in school history just a scant five months ago -- maybe the 10-play, 31-yard drive Swoopes engineered for a field goal was not such a huge accomplishment. Then again, given where this offense has been in terms of quarterbacks since Colt McCoy graduated -- having a starter and a potentially electrifying option just steps away on the sideline -- well, consider it a cattle prod in the side of Bevo.
All of that being said, he's still just a true freshman. If Ash doesn't play and McCoy gets yanked, how will the youngster respond in a big-game environment against a SEC opponent?
That's the million-dollar question, folks.
Regardless of whether Ash, McCoy, Swoopes or a combination of the three ultimately toss passes against the Ole Miss defense, one thing's for sure: Mack Brown can't afford back-to-back losses.
If Ash is able to play, Brown will breathe a huge sigh of relief come kickoff.
If not, he'll be holding his breath, along with the rest of the Longhorns faithful.