Let's get rolling with five thoughts on the thrilling Texas victory over Oklahoma State.
1. David Ash grew up in a big way tonight
Against Ole Miss, it only sort of counted, in the minds of most Longhorn fans. It seemed as if sophomore quarterback David Ash had made that final leap, moving from a game manager to a passer capable of making big plays down the field, but there was still plenty of nit-picking. The Ole Miss defense wasn't any good. Several of the long completions were underthrown. Microscope, applied in every way.
On Saturday night in Stillwater, Ash erased all doubts about the validity of his performance two weeks prior. Erased all doubts about whether he is the future of this Texas program. Erased thoughts of an Oklahoma State upset.
On a gutsy late drive to help propel the Longhorns into the endzone following a Cowboy field goal that helped Oklahoma State take the lead, Ash stood calmly in the pocket and delivered a strike to senior tight end DJ Grant to convert 4th and 6 and keep hopes of a victory alive.
A completion to senior running back Jeremy Hills picked up another handful of yards before Ash hit on a 32-yard throw to Mike Davis that essentially sealed the game as the Longhorns moved well within field goal range prior to Joe Bergeron's game-winning touchdown run.
It was another 300--passing performance for Ash that featured what is now becoming trademark accuracy in the short passing game, along with enough throws over the top to make the Oklahoma State defense pay.
So while Ash still came up short on a couple of long passes, they both resulted in pass interference penalties and gave more creedence to the idea floated by Mack Brown this week that giving the receiver a chance to make a play on the ball and doing so when the defensive back isn't playing the ball is good football.
Don't look now, but the Longhorns have a quarterback who is darn good and seemingly getting better by the minute.
2. This Texas team showed some mettle
It wasn't always pretty. In fact, it was rarely pretty for the Longhorns in Stillwater. In the end, though, the young and developing team made enough plays to win the game. Apologies for the cliche, but that's really all that matters.
One game into the season-defining stretch, and Texas is 1-0. Everything is still on the table -- a 3-0 finish to these crucial contests, a Big 12 title, a BCS appearance. Heck, even a national championship opportunity.
The latter may seem a bit ridiculous given the current play on the defensive side of the ball, but it's worth keeping track of that fact.
The Longhorns hadn't pulled out a last-second victory of this nature since the Big 12 championship game against Nebraska. Whatever happens the rest of the season, the mental toughness it took to pull out such a significant game on the road can't be underestimated.
3. Daje Johnson may be Houdini
The freshman running back/wide receiver wasn't a big part of the game plan against Ole Miss following his electriying debut against New Mexico, but he did flash the potential that has clearly intrigued co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin enough to get the Austin-area product the ball.
Late in the game, the Pokes were keying on his presence in motion by sending at least one extra defender hard up field, even going as far as keeping the defensive end on that side lined up well wide of the Texas offensive tackle.
For the most part, though, Johnson was able to make defenders miss on sure tackles, leading to four catches for 45 hard-fought yards, most of which were created absolutely on his own.
Just call him The Escape Artist.
4. The Texas defense is broken
A 69-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage for the Cowboys. A 44-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the fourth Oklahoma State drive. A 50-yard run by JW Walsh late in the game.
What was expected to be a team strength entering the season is now a major deficiency that could result in some serious carnage next week at the hands of a West Virginia team that dropped a cool 70 on Baylor Saturday. Sure, the Texas defense isn't as bad as the Baylor defense, thankfully, but is the separation really that great at the moment?
It was another tale of poor angles, missed tackles, and poor run fits again for the Longhorns, even after a bye week. It's hard to pin it all on defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the absence of the team's best linebacker and as the group continues working to replace Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, but there's no question that the shine is starting to fade a bit as it becomes clear that something has to change, production has to increase.
Is there an easy answer at this point? Clearly not, or otherwise more improvement would have been evident against Oklahoma State.
A team that was supposed to be carried by the defense as the offense developed is now being carried by the offense as the defense tries to figure things out.
5. The running game did not respond to the challenge
One of the major concerns entering the game was whether the Texas offensive line could continue producting against a strong defensive line. In short, the answer was essentially no. Though the Cowboys loaded the box for much of the game, gaining 3.2 yards per carry and not even 150 yards on the ground overall isn't acceptable for a team trying to build an identity around the rushing attack.
DJ Monroe was effective in his jet sweep package, but Marquise Goodwin gained only five yards on four carries and Jaxon Shipley two yards on his carry. It may be time for Harsin to show his counter for those plays.
The disturbing fact is that Oklahoma State was able to take away the running game inside and outside for the most part, a trend that would put tremendous pressure on the Texas passing game moving forward were it to hold.
The loss of Malcolm Brown in the second half surely didn't help things, but the notable absence of the pin-and-pull play, even when Brown was healthy in the first half, was odd given that it was the best running play the Longhorns ran through the first three games of the season.
It could have been worse, as the line could have given up the major negative plays that defined the 2011 season, but the inability to create running room on the inside or on the outside may not bode well for future offensive success, as heartening as the late comeback was for projections moving forward.