To properly sum up David Ash’s 2012 season, I have to use my least favorite word the Internet has forced me to learn: meh.
Ash’s raw numbers far outpaced even the rosiest preseason hopes: 2,699 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ash proved he can punish a mediocre defense but did little to prove he can come up big when it matters the most.
With Major Applewhite taking the reins of the Longhorns’ attack, my advice would be to look to the past.
Anyone that has watched the NFL has seen a revolution of sorts, that a quarterback who is also a threat to beat you with his legs makes life infinitely more difficult for the opposing defense.
Texas was on the ground floor of this revolution, and Longhorns fans know this better than anyone. Running backs, receivers and linemen magically have a way of getting better when their quarterback can turn even a broken play into a defense’s worst nightmare.
So as Applewhite looks to press his fingerprints into Texas’ offensive DNA, numbers indicate Ash’s next big step can come by way of dozens of little steps beyond the line of scrimmage.
While Ash made gigantic leaps as a passer in 2012, his progress in the passing game seemed to come at the expense as his utilization as a runner. Ash threw the ball 173 passes and rushed 73 times as a freshman; as a sophomore, his passing attempts jumped to 318, while his rushing attempts dropped to 51. Ash’s season-high in attempts was seven, which happened to come in the Alamo Bowl.
The numbers indicate that the football truism, a running quarterback opens things up in the passing game, are especially true for Ash. In the five games where he accumulated 19 rushing yards or more, Ash connected on 92-of-127 passes (72.4 percent) for 1,416 yards (11.1 yards per attempt) with 13 touchdowns and one interception.
Compare those figures with his stats from the other eight games, and he turns into a much more ordinary passer: 63.9 percent completions for 6.7 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His passer rating when he presents even a small threat to run (198.3) is 75 points higher than when Ash resigns himself to the pocket (123.3). For a guy that struggles making progressions in the passing game, any avenue that can create one-on-one coverage is one worth pursuing.
Speaking of the Alamo Bowl, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as Ash was completely inactive in the running game, he completed 7-of-13 passes for just 64 yards in the first half. In the second half, as he was popping off runs of seven, nine, five, 11 (for a touchdown), six, seven and six yards, he also completed 14-of-20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception mixed in). He finished the game by connecting on his final seven passes for 103 yards and those two touchdowns.
If those numbers muddle the picture, remember this: 3 > 2. A defense forced to respect a two-headed running game and a vertical passing game creates an equation that Texas fans have known the answer to since 2005.