Can David Ash be the QB?

AUSTIN, Texas -- David Ash took the blame.

Maybe the Texas quarterback deserved it.

Maybe it was his interceptions or his missed deep throws that led to an 8-5 season.

Maybe he was the only one not playing well against Missouri and Kansas State.

That was the way Ash saw it.

"A lot of times, it was hard, because, you know, I felt like I let down my team during a certain portion of the year," he said. "And I felt like we could have won more games had I played better."

Then again, hearing that, maybe Ash shouldered too much.

"He was trying too hard," Texas coach Mack Brown said of the Kansas State loss.

While football is a try-hard sport, quarterback has to be a more natural position. Ash looked anything but natural for most of his time under center.

His youth is the most widely used and most credible excuse for his poor performances. Despite enrolling in the spring of 2011, Ash's snaps were limited. There were three other quarterbacks ahead of him then, Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy and Connor Wood. That trend continued during the summer.

"I asked those guys about all the snaps, and in the summer I asked David and the receivers, how much did David get 7-on-7, and they said none," Brown said.

Still Ash started third on the depth chart before taking over the starting role. It was clearly not the move Texas wanted to make.

Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin had invested in Garrett Gilbert over the offseason. Harsin wanted the rising junior to be the quarterback. Ash was to be someone who could come in run the read option, possibly throw a pass and then head back to the sidelines to signal in plays.

To that end: "David really got left out," Brown said.

Until he wasn't anymore.

Now, after putting up the worst completion percentage (56.6) of any starter since Chance Mock's 54.6 percent season of 2003, Ash will be front and center in 2012.

Ash, as Harsin and Brown have said, has a "leg up" in the competition based on his Holiday Bowl performance. For Brown, Ash's 14-of-23 performance was more a starting point than the end of a season.

"He is just on the cutting edge of his snaps," the coach said. "And we will get him ready to go."

The question that lingers like and cloud over DKR is whether that is even possible. Is Ash capable of being the starter at Texas?

Harsin said yes. Brown said yes. They both are paid to say just that.

The players aren't. Whether they truly believe Ash is the starter they need is questionable. What it not is the growth the Longhorns saw in the true freshman.

"When he first got his starts, toward the middle of the season, I think that's when he started to grow up a lot more, whenever he realized this could be his team and he needed to step up and make plays," wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said. "But it's one of those seasons where we were switching the quarterback, and it was hard for our quarterback to find a groove."

"David has matured a lot since I first met him," added wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. "He's matured mentally and physically. He's managed to handle pressure well, and he's a fighter.

"He's been grinding it out every day, working hard. I commend him for the things he's done, because he's a young guy coming in, and it's hard to have the pressure on his shoulders."

For his part, Harsin acknowledged there are mechanical deficiencies in Ash's deep throws that will have to be cleaned up in the offseason. But McCoy, the penciled-in No. 2 quarterback headed into the spring, is right there with him.

In Harsin's mind, he can build around Ash. At least enough to sustain an offense.

"If you can manage the game, not turn the ball over, we're going to have success." Harsin said.

And, of course, Harsin wants consistency. That's all they are asking of Ash in the spring. The flash and sizzle will come from other positions and players like Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron, Shipley and Goodwin.

Because of that, Mack Brown, who has long beat the drum that the quarterback is the most important position on the field, has started to change his tune slightly.

"You go back and look at it, the night Alabama beat us and won the National Championship, they did not have a great quarterback," he said. "They had a great team."

The same, it could be argued, held true in Monday's title game.

Still it's easier with a great quarterback, and Brown knows it.

"A quarterback can make the players around him better than they are," he said. "I do believe that."

"(But) I think you can win it all with a good quarterback that manages the game.''

Now Texas and Ash have to figure out if he can be that quarterback. Or if he is still going to be the one taking the blame.