Like the head coach and the rest of the Texas Longhorns, starting junior quarterback David Ash knows that the time for talk is almost past -- it's nearly time to show on-field evidence of improvement, of greater consistently.
"At this point, it's about time," he said on Tuesday.
He may be ready to take that step from near-elite to elite this season and one thing that will help him as much as anything else is his increased confidence, which was the buzz word surrounding Ash as he made his first appearance at the Big 12 Media Days.
As is typical for the Belton product, he was honest about how far he has come in the two and a half years since he first enrolled at Texas ($):
When you're a freshman you know about 30 percent of what you should know and you are faking the other 70 percent. When you are a sophomore it is about 50/50. Now I'm on the other side of that and I know what I'm doing and my team has to understand that I know and believe in me.
He doesn't have to fake it in part because he finally has the full backing of his coaching staff, but more importantly because he is coming into his own as a player comfortable leading the team. Don't underestimate the value of that comfort level to him ($):
If I throw four bad passes I throw four bad passes. It's not, 'Oh man, I just threw four bad passes. Am I going to get pulled?'
In that regard, the coaching staff probably made some mistakes in being so fast to pull Ash over the last two seasons, though the junior did confirm that his poor performance against TCU was a result of broken ribs suffered during the game. Ash always had the clear upside over McCoy, so why undermine his development by undermining his confidence? Those decision were perplexing at the time and remain so with hindsight.
Besides being named the clear-cut starter by his coach, talks over the summer with former quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy have helped buoy Ash's confidence, as both have provided perspective on how to become a better leader. Young told him to become more "visible and available" for teammates.
And, of course, Ash's new play caller, Major Applewhite, added his thoughts as well:
Coach Applewhite says you don't want to be the quarterback that's up in the ivory tower. You want to be the quarterback that's in the foxhole with your teammates. That's what I want.
A rare display of emotion in the Alamo Bowl provided some evidence of that foxhole mentality for Ash. Head coach Mack Brown, who has been singing Ash's praises throughout the spring and summer, asked his starter about his favorite NFL quarterback. Ash responded with the name Tom Brady, to which Brown said that he needed to get that same type of buy in from his teammates that Brady does from him. And the only way to do that is on the field.
In the second half of that potentially pivotal performance, it all seemed to come together on one play. Down by 10 with about 10 minutes gone in the third quarter, Texas faced a 2nd and 10 from the Oregon State 11-yard line. Applewhite dialed up a quarterback draw and Ash took off up the middle before hurdling several opponents into the end zone. Mobbed immediately by teammates, Ash let out a roar and narrowly escaped a penalty when he sent the football hard into the artificial turf at the Alamodome.
On Tuesday, Brown described his quarterback's reaction coming off the field:
He came off the field, stuck his finger in my face and said, ‘Is that all right?'
At the risk of answering a rhetorical question -- yessir, that was very much all right.
Even though Ash has been candid about his need to become less robotic on the field, he also took the opportunity to shoot down the belief that he's completely unemotional:
I'm a very emotional guy, but it doesn't come out all the time. I honestly didn't know I spiked the ball. It wasn't some kind of pseudo-emotion. It was real.
Also real was his finish to the game -- after his touchdown run, he finally hit a rhythm, throwing a marvelous touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray under pressure and then connecting with Marquise Goodwin on the game-winning throw, his second of the season. The move to the up-tempo offense this season should help him get into that groove more often as he runs more plays, takes on more control at the line of scrimmage, and faces defenses with less time to make calls and disguise coverages, not to mention reduced ability to substitute.
In a conference where Ash and likely TCU starter Casey Pachall are the elder statesmen, the experience forged over Ash's trying seasons should begin to tell in a significant way:
In my two years here, I've seen everything. I've played good against good teams. I've played bad against good teams. I've played bad against bad teams. Hopefully, through that, I'll be able to go into situations now and play all of those games well. To me, that's the next step.
We could easily have been 11-2 last year. You've got to go up right now. If you go up, you're back where you want to be.
Elite play from Ash won't require a miracle or a leap or a jump. Just putting one foot in front of the other. The next step.