- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Maybe it is the poise allowed by one more year.
Perhaps it could be the seasoning that has soaked in along the offensive line.
There is a chance it might be the opponents; juggernauts they have not been.
Then again, a running attack, that actually does attack this year, is a variable that has to be considered as well.
Or maybe it's the choice of patterns preferred by co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin; short jabs as opposed to haymaker after haymaker.
Whatever it is, and the likely answer is that a combination of things, Texas quarterback David Ash is watching the games play out on two feet this year as opposed to last season's angle of repose, which is to say flat on his back.
"Since last year we were not happy with our pass protection and the last year we have really taken it as a challenge to be in the right spot," guard Mason Walters said. "Last year we didn't understand the offense well enough as an offensive line to be able to adjust on the run and we have challenged ourselves since spring ball to get better at it. And anything anybody is able to throw at us we take it personally on the offensive line."
Through three games, Texas quarterbacks have been sacked only twice in 82 attempts. That's once for every 41 throws. In 2011, Texas quarterbacks were sacked once every 12.7 times they attempted a pass.
That is a number Texas and Ash are more than happy to live with as well as a trend both would like to continue.
"It's early," Walters cautioned.
And clearly the sledding becomes slightly tougher as the weeks progress. Oklahoma State sacked Ash five times a season ago. West Virginia is currently 14th nationally in sacks with 3.3 per game. And Oklahoma posted eight sacks against Texas quarterbacks in 2011.
However, it has been eye-opening for Texas as well. The offense, maligned for two seasons, has a quarterback who has thrown seven touchdowns, no interceptions, has completed 75 percent of his passes and led the team to 66 points on the road.
"He has more confidence," wide receiver Marquise Goodwin said.
That confidence plays into the lack of sacks because Ash, instead of questioning what he is doing in the pocket, has started to understand the tools that he does have and make quick use of them.
"It's not only his maturity but his pocket presence," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "He is leaving the pocket only when he needs to now."
Like the first third-down conversion against New Mexico when Ash scrambled one way to keep the play alive before finding Mike Davis crossing. Same thing happened at Ole Miss when he started to load the ball and throw to D.J. Grant down the middle, but after spotting a potential danger, he pulled it down, scrambled and found Davis on the sideline.
"That's more exciting to me than the deep balls," Harsin said.
"Those plays are making it harder for people to get to him," Brown said. "And David is big. He has gotten enough confidence in his running ability now that he can make plays with his feet."
Ash is also seeing things beyond the play and, more importantly, has communicated what he has seen to the offensive line.
"That was one of the biggest things that we haven't had since I have been here is just the quarterback communicating with the offensive line, just letting them know what he sees in protections what he sees from the defense," guard Trey Hopkins said.
That allows the line to be aware of shifts and potential blitzes and then be able to pick it up. It also allows the offensive line to trust that the quarterback understands what he is doing and is taking command. Ash also fully understands the playbook, which includes the handful of either/or plays that are thrown in each week by Harsin.
"Now when he feels a little fishy he is able to check out of it," Walters said.
Which is exactly what didn't happen last year against Oklahoma State. On top of the five sacks, Ash was under pressure the entire game, leading to two interceptions and a fumble.
"I was trying to do too much," Ash said.
Now Ash, as well as Texas, have figured out just how much to do and when.
A combination of better line play, understanding of the offense and play-calling have Texas QB David Ash displaying better presence in the pocket.