David Ash starred late for Texas after early struggles. - USA TODAY Sports
A brutal first half gave way to a dominant second half, spurred by the defense stepping up and David Ash making plays.
In a roller-coaster victory for the Texas Longhorns, 31-27, over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, David Ash, Alex Okafor, Marquise Goodwin, and Quandre Diggs played starring roles in the second half as the Longhorns overcame big halftime and late deficits with a flurry of plays on the final two crucial possessions.
The senior Okafor capped off a career that actually lived up to his lofty five-star rating with a 9-tackle, 4.5-sack performance that included a big sack/strip of Cody Vaz early in the game. It was a career high in sacks and an Alamo Bowl record.
Diggs added a huge late interception on a wobbly throw from Vaz, who was extraordinarily wobbly all night and was sacked repeatedly and generally abused all night. His two interceptions came after only throwing one all year. Rudy Carpenter feels your pain, Cody Vaz.
Goodwin kept Texas in the game in a terrible 1st half with his 64-yard touchdown run on a reverse after the Texas defense turned Cody Vaz over twice, but two stalls and a missed field goal resulted in only three points.
Meanwhile, David Ash turned the ball over in the second half when he was hit in the pocket and threw an interception, but was otherwise brilliant in 2nd half. Major Applewhite accelerated the tempo, Ash had a breakout performance in the quarterback draw and scramble game.
More important, he answered the fundamental question about his upside as the Texas quarterback -- could he recover from a shaky start? And a shaky start it was, with an ugly near fumble and two missed opportunities on would-be touchdowns as the Texas offense.
The first 1st down came on an Oregon State penalty just before Goodwin's run, which came just into the 2nd quarter of play.
Ash still isn't working through his progressions well, but was nails to Jaxon Shipley over the middle eight times for 88 yards, including a spectacular one-handed catch, but especially on the improv touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray.
Down 27-17 with the clock ticking under nine minutes in the 4th quarter, Ash moved strong in the pocket to his left to avoid a rusher and floated a 15-yard touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray that the freshman running back deftly snagged on a catch that he made look easy, but most certainly was not. It was the best play of Ash's career and one of the most significant plays in a recent Texas bowl game.
The touchdown pass came after a fourth-down conversion following five straight big completions from Ash for 84 big yards to drive 83 yards and preserve hope.
Continued poor pocket presence from Vaz contributed to a critical sack by Okafor on 3rd down gave Texas a chance to take the lead with a short field when Diggs returned a 33-yard punt for 22 yards.
After several runs and an Ash scramble for 6 yards, a double move to Marquise Goodwin beat two-deep coverage from Oregon State when the safety inexplicably failed to widen and Ash hit his senior speedster to take the lead with 2:24 left in the game, the first for the 'Horns all night.
For at least one game, Ash answered the fundamental question that was keeping him from becoming a nationally-elite quarterback. After several scrambles that were called back for holding penalties, Applewhite started calling quarterback draws for Ash, which seemed to allow his confidence to skyrocket as the Longhorns offense got rolling.
Ash finally defined his upside, and defined as a player who is closer to the nationally-elite player he at times showed himself to be, rather than the player couldn't respond to adversity against Kansas and Oklahoma and TCU (the latter now forgiven in light of his injury, one would think).
Sure, it wasn't pretty at times for the team, with penalties and continued struggles by the run defense and linebackers and a missed field goal and all sort of warts.
But in the end, the team was resilient enough to win despite all the distractions off the field and struggles on the field, Mack Brown got the improvement in number of victories that he wanted, and the offseason narrative was defined as a positive one.
When Brown spoke to the Alamo Bowl crowd after the game, he was exultant like a political candidate who had just won re-election after a trying campaign. Like a coach who had been to the brink, saw the depths of a terrible offseason and then was pulled back by some pretty spectacular performances in the final quarter. Because that is exactly what he was in that moment, exultant from the depths of his diaphragm.
Brown survived. The team survived.
That's so much better than the alternative.
In a manic depressive season (mostly depressive) with a schizophrenic quarterback, at least the offseason narrative was written as one full of hope, warts and all.
There's some time to feel good about this, regardless of everything else.