Texas' big test gets tougher with Ash out

AUSTIN, Texas -- No David Ash. No Daje Johnson. New defensive coordinator. Not exactly an ideal time for Texas to play a must-win game against a ranked foe, is it?

The tough task of getting a win over No. 25 Ole Miss on Saturday and getting a season back on track just got a bit harder for the Longhorns.

Texas announced Friday that Ash has been ruled out for the Ole Miss game. He’s still recovering from head and right shoulder injuries suffered in the fourth quarter of Texas’ 40-21 loss at BYU last week.

The decision itself isn’t much of a surprise considering Ash had not been practicing and Texas coaches had avoided disclosing the specifics of his injury. He’d been considered day-to-day and perhaps a game-time decision.

We don’t know how severely he injured his passing shoulder or whether he suffered a concussion, so predicting when Ash will return isn’t easy. But the Longhorns need him back.

Case McCoy gets the start, and his coaches and players have expressed confidence that he can get the job done against the Rebels.

He has big wins on his resume, none bigger than leading the final victory over Texas A&M in 2011. He saved Ash, Brown and the rest of the program from serious embarrassment by rallying the Longhorns for a comeback win at Kansas last year.

He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his last two starts, but those have come with a combined six interceptions and two losses. In games when he’s attempted more than 15 passes, Texas is 2-5.

These aren’t flattering numbers, but they’re a reality the Longhorns now face. And they beat the option of pulling the redshirt of true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, which is still very much a possibility on Saturday night.

Losing Ash could be particularly damaging to one of Texas’ better advantages against the Ole Miss defense. Ash had consistent success with the deep ball last year in Oxford and Texas blew the game open for a 66-31 with its big-play potential.

Ash has 60 completions and 19 touchdown passes of 20-plus yards in his career. McCoy has 21 and five scores, though in fairness he’s had half the career passing attempts of Ash.

Texas coaches insist going with McCoy does not require simplifying the playbook, and that the senior simply needs to cut down on his turnovers and mistakes.

But Saturday’s game might need to be won by Texas’ running backs now, and it’s time for them to live up to their hype.

Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron might be one of the better rushing trios in the nation when all three are healthy, but they’ve combined for only 218 yards this season. In fact, Ash is actually Texas’ leading rusher at 125 yards.

All this, plus the fact Texas’ defense is trying to rebuild itself in one week under new coordinator Greg Robinson, sets the stage for one of the biggest games in Mack Brown’s career.

A win would bring a significant confidence boost for this Texas team entering Big 12 play. Lose and things could get much worse. Either way, it’s not going to be easy without Ash.