Steps taken, but Texas still has a ways to go

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
9:18
AM ET
Texas knew better than to go over the top with its celebration.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Jody Gomez/US PresswireWith talent like Jackson Jeffcoat returning, Texas' defense should only get better in 2012.
Sure a few carried-away words were said. That is to be expected, it is a young group after all. But, as a whole, it was a muted affair. That's because a win in the Holiday Bowl is not where Texas wanted to be or ever wants to be in the future. It is a stepping-stone bowl. Pure and simple.

Mack Brown understands that. So too do his players.

But that they made the most of it might mean Texas is taking steps in the right direction. Not leaps. Not bounds. Texas has to crawl before it can walk and run back into the national college football scene.

After an 8-5 season in which the downs seemed to overshadow the ups, Texas has to figure out if it indeed has passed the crawling stage.

On the defensive side of the ball it most certainly has. Even with the loss of its backbone -- Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Kheeston Randall -- there is full faith that the Texas defense will be back next year and quite possibly stronger than it was in 2011. Desmond Jackson, Calvin Howell, Chris Whaley, Jordan Hicks, and Demarco Cobbs all appear prepared to step up. The return of Kenny Vaccaro will give stability to what was once thought to be the weakest returning position -- safety.

There are few, if any, worries about the defense.

But the offense, oh the offense, it continued its angina-inducing play against Cal. With more than three weeks to prepare, a quarterback change, and somewhat healthy running backs, the offense still produced just 255 yards.

OK, maybe Cal's defense is decent.

But consider this: Texas’ average starting field position in the first quarter was its own 43. It was 0 for 4 on third down conversions and scored 0 points in that quarter. Furthermore, the Longhorns' defense handed the ball to the offense five times. The average starting field position on those drives was the Cal 40-yard line. Texas scored once. Granted the last turnover was inconsequential. But even without it, the average starting field position was the 50.

When it was over, quarterback David Ash thanked his teammates for hanging with him through the rough times. He meant against Cal, but it might as well have been a blanket statement for the season.

Ash and Case McCoy, still have yet to prove that either can run a BCS-caliber offense. Both have shown flashes, but overall, it is clear neither has the arm strength required to make big throws in big games. Twice Ash missed wide open receivers more than 30-yards down the field against Cal.

Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin acknowledged Ash's mechanics need work. But he stopped short of stating that Ash was incapable of throwing the long play-action passes on which so much of his offensive scheme is based.

Really, Texas has no other choice than to stick with Ash. Because of the manner in which it has conducted this quarterback shuffle -- five different starters in 13 games -- Texas is at risk of losing players and another quarterback if it continues.

Jaxon Shipley, McCoy’s roommate and longtime friend, summed up some of the frustration: “Everybody knows that having one quarterback and not switching from one to the other definitely would help with the consistency.”

Shipley quickly couched that statement by saying “But we got to do what we got to do, and if we need to play both of them, we'll do that.”

But Shipley’s first statement is essentially correct. Texas now has to take the next step. To do that, it has to figure out if Ash is a viable quarterback or a stop-gap player until the next Vince Young or Colt McCoy comes along. The coaching staff has nine months to figure it out. Maybe if they do that, then there will be a real cause for celebration.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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