Texas entered the 2013 season in a position of strength at the quarterback position.
In David Ash, Texas not only returned a player who ranked in the country's top-25 in passing efficiency as a sophomore, but also a quarterback who started 2013 as the most experienced Big 12 signal-caller in career starts.
An opener that saw Ash complete 20-of-28 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for an additional 91 yards on eight carries and another touchdown, did little to slow the belief that Ash was on the cusp of becoming an upper-tier Big 12 QB.
Then, disaster struck. Sometime in Texas's 40-21 loss to BYU — some estimates have put it somewhere in the second quarter — Ash sustained a head injury that was later revealed to be a concussion. It would make sense if that injury did, in fact, occur in the second quarter. Ash started hot, completing 8-of-10 passes for 136 yards and a score in leading the Longhorns to a 14-10 lead. The second touchdown drive finished with 10:29 left in the second quarter.
On the first play of Texas's next drive, Kyle Van Noy drove Ash into the turf. Was that the play? It's impossible to tell — there wasn't a flashing neon sign that screams "Concussion Happened Here." But including that play, and from that point on, Ash was just 11-of-24 for 115 yards and a score, and the Longhorns scored just seven more points. The difference in quarterback rating is astounding: on those first 10 passes, Ash was at 227.24. On the following 24, he had a rating of 99.83. Keep in mind that the first number was probably non-sustainable. But the second number would be bad enough to rank him among the Big 12's worst quarterbacks. That's a huge difference.
Ash was eventually pulled in the fourth quarter, and Case McCoy logged a solid game-manager type performance against Ole Miss, completing 24-of-36 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't enough … the Longhorns were outscored in the second half 27-0 after the Rebels put the clamps on the Texas running game.
But the next week against Kansas State, Ash returned, at least for a half. His accuracy numbers weren't perfect — he was 14-of-25 — but he passed for 166 yards and a touchdown in the first half, while running for 27 more yards as the Longhorns scored 17 first-half points. The head injury resurfaced, and once again, McCoy found himself playing the role of placeholder. He threw just nine times, but completed five of those throws for 59 yards. This time, it was enough. McCoy captained two touchdown drives and Texas held on for a 31-21 victory.
McCoy earned his second start of the year — and just his third since his sophomore season — at Iowa State. But the offense wasn't really McCoy's yet. Texas spread the field, and McCoy's arm strength was an obstacle toward creating one-on-one matchups on the outside as he struggled to get the ball out quickly to the Longhorns' wideouts on hitches. He completed 26-of-45 throws for 244 yards and a touchdown, averaging just 5.42 yards per attempt. Those numbers looked even worse when you take out McCoy's longest play, a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half.
But to do that would be to ignore the fact that Texas drew multiple pass interference calls that would have helped McCoy's average, with Cyclone defensive backs grabbing Longhorn wideouts whenever they tried to run a deeper route. And McCoy was there when he needed to be, a calming influence on the final Texas drive, capped off by McCoy diving in the finishing yard for the game-winning score.
Still, when Texas quickly announced that Ash wasn't recovered, and that McCoy would pilot the Longhorns in the Red River Shootout against the rival (and undefeated) Sooners, a collective groan ensued from the Texas fanbase.
But the Texas staff deserved credit. Blessed with more notice on the quarterback situation, the Longhorns built the offense around McCoy's strengths. Gone were the 'Horns' attempts to stretch the field horizontally, firing out hitches and quick outs that required more arm strength. In were more compact formations, more over-the-middle type throws and an emphasis on the power running game.
It shouldn't have been a huge surprise, then, that McCoy played his best game of the season, completing 13-of-21 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. Each touchdown was a throw of beauty, the first a perfectly laid throw to Marcus Johnson on a wheel route. And the second, on a sluggo concept to Mike Davis, McCoy pumped, then lofted a throw to the field, allowing Davis to run under the ball for a 38-yard score.
But even beyond the obvious touchdown throws, McCoy was a master of his domain, helping the Longhorns convert an absurd 13-for-20 on third downs. Take out the fourth quarter, when Texas had the game in-hand and was simply running the ball, and Texas was 11-of-15. That's 73.3 percent!
There shouldn't be any doubt whose team this is. Ash has thrown 36 fewer passes than McCoy on the season, but he has just four fewer yards and three more touchdowns. And Ash has the benefit of a player who has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in rushing for 152 yards in five halves of play.
But Texas is 3-0 in the Big 12 with McCoy playing five of the possible six halves of play. And with Ash's situation unclear — nobody seems to know whether he'll be back for TCU or whether he'll even play again this season — it's good to know that the Longhorns can count on McCoy in tough games against high-caliber defenses.
If, when the season started, Texas fans were told that McCoy, not Ash, would have nearly 40 more passes through six games, it would have been cause for panic. Instead, Texas is sitting at 4-2, admittedly not perfect, but with a sparkling conference record and a chance to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.