The entire narrative around the Texas football program changed Monday when head coach Charlie Strong announced the injuries to two key contributors on the Texas offense.
Redshirt junior quarterback David Ash suffered a head injury against North Texas last Saturday and will miss the BYU game on Sept. 6.
According to Strong, Ash believes the injury occurred on the first contact he faced in the first quarter, but he did not begin experiencing symptoms until after Saturday's game.
This injury is nothing new for the redshirt junior quarterback. Ash suffered a concussion against BYU last season, returned to the field two weeks later, only to have recurring concussion symptoms and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Strong does not know if Ash will miss more than one game.
But Ash's injury was just a portion of the bad news Strong delivered Monday.
Senior center Dominic Espinosa—who left Saturday's game with an injury—will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a broken right ankle. No timetable has been set for his return.
Strong has only been in Austin for eight months, but it probably seems like an eternity for the head coach.
Whether it was getting adjusted to the extra attention or added pressure of public speaking, going on a 12-city publicity tour across the state of Texas or dismissing seven players for violating his rules, Strong's short career at Texas has not been a breeze.
The injuries to Ash and Espinosa is just another hiccup for the first-year head coach.
Losing a starting quarterback is a difficult blow for any team to overcome. Replacing a starter with a quarterback who's game experience primarily includes garbage-time play is even worse.
But that's the reality for the Texas offense.
The Longhorns will rely on sophomore Tyrone Swoopes to lead the charge against BYU Saturday.
Nobody truly knows what Swoopes is capable of doing at the college level because of his lack of playing time. And kneeling on the ball to run out the clock in the Longhorns game versus North Texas hardly counts as game experience.
The Longhorns' ground game will need to be utilized more than ever with the inexperienced quarterback under center.
Senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray are two of the best one-two punches in the Big 12, and the pressure will be on both running backs to carry the Texas offense moving forward.
But opening up holes to allow the duo to run wild will be a greater task without Espinosa.
The fifth-year senior has 40 career starts for the Longhorns. His backup, redshirt freshman Jake Raulerson, has yet to start a game.
Espinosa's experience is impossible to replace on the offensive line, which is one of the least seasoned position groups on the team.
Time to Step Up
One could argue losing Espinosa is just as big of a blow as losing Ash.
Throughout the offseason, Strong has constantly said he does not need Ash to carry the offense. In fact, the head coach specifically told the quarterback that all he truly needs him to be is a game manager.
But the reasons why Strong did not need Ash to be outstanding was because of the talent Texas has at running back and the leadership the offense had with Espinosa at the helm.
Strong needs his players to step up and help the team move forward with Ash and Espinosa's futures unknown.
"We have a football team, and we have to go play," Strong said. "Other players have to step up and other players have to go play. It's no different. Now the challenge of this football team is how well we can bounce back and what we're all about."
One positive note for the offensive line is senior Desmond Harrison, who was suspended for the first game of the season after violating team rules, will return to the team for the BYU game.
Many Texas players and coaches mentioned Harrison as one of the best players on the offensive line throughout fall camp. And senior defensive end Cedric Reed—whom ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has listed as the No. 1 senior DE for the 2015 NFL draft—said Harrison is one of the toughest opponents to face.
The 6'8", 313-pound senior needs to play up to his potential to protect Swoopes and block for the Longhorns' run game.
Tough Road Ahead
Much of the offense's success is dependent on offensive line coach Joe Wickline's ability to find the right group to help the ground game. And he will need to find that solution as soon as possible as the Longhorns prepare to face some of the toughest opponents on its schedule in the coming weeks.
The next opponent on the schedule is the same team that embarrassed Texas last season and ultimately cost the job of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. BYU is coming off of a road victory against UConn, which saw the Cougars defense hold its opponent's offense to only 74 rushing yards.
But BYU is only the first hurdle the Longhorns will need to overcome over the next few weeks.
|Texas Longhorns upcoming schedule|
|Sept. 13||UCLA||No. 7|
|Oct. 4||Baylor||No. 10|
|Oct. 11||OU||No. 4|
|Rankings via AP Top 25|
Strong's job got a lot tougher following the 38-7 blowout over North Texas. And the damages from Saturday's win could very well impact the Longhorns' success for the rest of the season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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