When BYU played Texas in Austin in 2011, the Cougar defense first faced quarterback Garrett Gilbert. But after he struggled, the Texas coaches opted to rotate a few younger quarterbacks in David Ash and Case McCoy.
"Then you had McCoy and Ash as backups, with McCoy ahead of Ash who was still a true freshman,” said Fox Sports Texas reporter Kevin Flaherty. “Texas came back and people said, 'Oh, look at what the quarterbacks had done.' But if you go back and look at it, they pretty much handed the ball off for the most part."
Coming in at 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, Ash is now a junior who has played in 25 games and started 18. This year Ash is listed on the Davey O'Brien Ward, Manning Award and CFPA Award watch lists.
"Last year Ash became the starter and he was in the top 25 in pass efficiency," said Flaherty. "He still had some inconsistent moments. He was pulled against Kansas and McCoy led them back for the win. Ash kind of got pulled against Oklahoma and everybody played poorly in that game. He broke his ribs during the Iowa State game and tried to pull through against TCU without telling the coaching staff, so they basically wound up being relieved by McCoy, and then he came back and had a nice performance in the Alamo Bowl. So, he was basically up and down last year."
Ash has grown as a quarterback since he played against BYU in 2011.
"The biggest leap forward Ash made last year – he was pretty accurate last year with his passes – is in the leadership category," said Flaherty. "A big part of that came from Vince Young, who at the time wasn't in the NFL over spring and was looking for a job, so he was back in Austin, Texas finishing up his degree. He was out at practices and sort of departed a lot of leadership lessons to Ash. He's taking a big step forward."
Ash has made improvements in other areas as well.
"The biggest thing with him is he's always had the tools," said Flaherty. "I mean, you're talking about a quarterback that is 6’3”, 220 pounds. He had a 55-yard rushing touchdown [last week against NMSU], so he's a runner, and then on top of that he can make all the NFL throws – the slants, the deep outs – and so he can make all the throws.
"He continuing to improve his accuracy, but the biggest improvement he's made from last year is his anticipation. He's not sitting on the ball and waiting until people are open. He's throwing people open and that's a big difference this year than last, so, yeah, the main difference this year than last year is his anticipation is a lot better."
"He throws really well and has good timing with his receivers downfield," said BYU cornerback Robertson Daniel. "He's a talented quarterback who can do many different things from the quarterback position. We'll have to make sure we play the receivers well because he'll find those guys deep if we don't."
Much like the Cougars, the Longhorns have turned to a fast-paced style of offense.
"The thing with Ash is he ran this system at Belton High School, or a similar system to what they run at Texas," said Flaherty. "The state of Texas is full of high schools that run a high-tempo spread. A lot of these guys are uses to it, and I think that's why you see Texas go back to that. It's just because every quarterback they're recruiting has run the system."
"They're good at what they do," said Daniel. "There's no doubt about that, so we'll have to be sure to play disciplined football and not get lazy in our coverages. It's going to be a good game."
BYU's secondary had multiple opportunities to intercept passes against Virginia last week. So how has Ash done in the turnover category?
"For the most part last year he did a pretty good job in taking care of the ball, but he did have some lapses and things like that," said Flaherty. "This year in practices he's done a better job in taking care of the ball, which sounds weird because he had two picks last week against New Mexico State."
Texas will often utilize the option ride much like BYU does, and Ash has the ability to run the ball. However, with the caliber of running backs at his disposal, it appears that part of his game has taken a back seat.
"He's a little more versatile, but from what I see he doesn't want to run the ball," said linebacker Austen Jorgensen. "He would rather throw it than run it. He'll tuck it and run, but he's not going to go get those extra yards from what I've seen. He's a talented quarterback and another one of those playmakers they have on offense."
"He can run the ball and he's had some success doing that this year," said Daniel. "Our linebackers are going to have to make sure they don't get fooled by the dive plays and contain the ends. If we can do that, we should be fine. I'm excited for the game."