Quarterback inconsistency has been among the leading causes of disappointment for the Texas football program over the last three years. After their 2013 opener, the Longhorns have reason to believe they've put those issues behind them.
David Ash and the 15th-ranked Longhorns look to build on a strong season debut as they visit BYU on Saturday night.
Texas went 45-8 from 2006-09 behind the leadership of star quarterback Colt McCoy, but hasn't found the same success since losing the national championship game to Alabama after the 2009 season. The Longhorns went 22-16 over the last three seasons, plagued by erratic play from their signal-callers as the team ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 in passing offense each year.
Ash was the primary quarterback in 2012, but coach Mack Brown called his team's passing game "inept" after a loss to TCU in November and would start Case McCoy -- Colt's brother -- over a banged-up Ash in the next game. Brown wouldn't say whether Ash would start that game if he weren't hampered by injury, and hedged when asked if he considered Ash the team's quarterback of the future.
One game into 2013, Brown's decision to stick with Ash looks like a wise one. The junior completed 20 of 28 passes for 343 yards with a career high-tying four touchdowns, and he ran for a career-best 91 yards and another score as the Longhorns routed New Mexico State 56-7 last Saturday.
It wasn't a smooth performance throughout, however. Texas trailed 7-0 late in the second quarter, far from a convincing start for a team hoping to live up to lofty expectations after many years of falling short.
"The guys are older now. We've been in that situation ... and we've failed before," Ash said. "So much of football is about morale and believing."
Ash played a role in the Longhorns' early struggles, throwing two first-half interceptions before sparking the rally with touchdown passes of 54 and 66 yards in the last two minutes of the second quarter.
"We ended up blowing them out and it wasn't easy in the first half," said Brown, whose team racked up a school-record 715 yards of total offense. "We had to fight. I thought (Ash) really kept his composure well."
Brown hopes to see more of the same against a BYU team that's coming off a tough 19-16 loss to Virginia last Saturday. The game was delayed two hours and nine minutes after the first quarter due to lightning, and the teams played the second half in a downpour, with the Cougars giving up the winning touchdown with 2:36 left.
"Very difficult loss for our team under really unique circumstances," coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
The Cougars, who haven't had a losing season since Mendenhall took over the program in 2005, have dropped six straight games against Top 25 opponents since a bowl win over then-No. 16 Oregon State in 2009. During that skid, one loss was by three points and three were by a single point.
Mendenhall knows snapping that streak Saturday will be a challenge.
"The (BYU) players are competitive," Mendenhall said after last week's defeat. "We all are and there's a ton of work that goes into every game. Certainly no one is more disappointed than I am, and the team is hurt right now. It's a great chance to discover who we are going to be and how we are going to be going forward. We have another significant test coming up, so there is a sense of urgency."
While the Cougars' defense was fairly stout last weekend, forcing 13 punts and two turnovers while yielding only 223 total yards in the rain, Brown expects an even better performance against his Longhorns this week.
"The team that played Virginia Saturday night is not the one we'll see," he said.
Then-No. 24 Texas scraped out a 17-16 win over BYU in Austin in the teams' last meeting Sept. 10, 2011. The Cougars scored the first 13 points before the Longhorns rallied, taking the lead with 8:46 left and holding on. Four different Longhorns completed passes, with Ash, then a freshman playing in his second career game, going 2 for 3 for 35 yards. It was Texas' first win in three all-time meetings with BYU.
Texas has won 11 straight non-conference road games since a 27-24 loss at Stanford on Sept. 16, 2000.
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Mack Brown and Major Applewhite will put their offense's progress to the test against a BYU defense that was one of the nation's best in 2012. BYU is reeling after a 19-16 loss at Virginia in which its offense gave away the game on a late turnover. The defense, though, should pose a serious challenge to the Longhorns, who didn't score their first touchdown of a 56-7 win over New Mexico State until the end of the first half.