Texas discovered more than an answer to its unsettled quarterback situation in Saturday's 17-16 victory over Brigham Young.
The Longhorns found an inner fire that was missing throughout last year's 5-7 season. All signs suggest the two events are related and that future game plans, starting with this week's road trip to UCLA, will be built around young quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash.
That duo rallied Texas from a 13-point deficit after starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert (2 of 8 for 8 yards, with two interceptions) was benched in the second quarter. It marked Texas' largest comeback since the 2007 season, when McCoy's older brother, Colt, led a rally from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Oklahoma State 38-35.
Let's be clear: No. 24 Texas (2-0) is a long way from being a Big 12 title contender and very easily could lose to the Bruins (1-1) for a second consecutive season. But the Longhorns will head to the Rose Bowl on a mental uptick after Saturday's comeback, which is crucial for a young team in a rebuilding season.
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"This team wouldn't have won this game last year," coach Mack Brown said after Texas rallied from a 13-0 deficit behind the second-half contributions of McCoy, Ash and the defense. "The toughness was there. We didn't panic."
Brown drew a direct parallel to last year's UCLA game, when the Longhorns watched a 13-3 halftime deficit morph into a 34-12 loss that triggered a season-killing tailspin. Down by the same 13-3 margin at halftime against BYU, Texas found a way to win.
The comeback involved more than the change at quarterback, said tailback Cody Johnson, who scored both Texas touchdowns.
"We came together as a team," Johnson said. "We were divided last year, and we've fixed the problem."
But the mood of the stadium, as well as the Texas sideline, clearly changed when McCoy (7 of 8, 57 yards) stepped under center to start the third quarter, with Ash (9 carries, 36 yards) running occasional plays -- usually the zone read -- from a limited package as a change-of-pace quarterback.
If McCoy, a sophomore, and Ash, a freshman, are not the two quarterbacks atop Texas' depth chart today, I'd suggest coaches go back and review the videotapes. Or talk to their players. They clearly felt a surge of energy when the low-key Gilbert, who has 23 interceptions and 13 TD passes in his college career, yielded the field to his more effusive understudies.
"When Case came in, he played a real leadership role for us," said receiver Jaxon Shipley, who caught two passes for 34 yards in Texas' game-winning, 52-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. "He was pumping us up, telling us he was going to lead us to victory."
Receiver/kick returner Marquise Goodwin, a junior, said McCoy -- who threw only one pass during the 2010 season as Gilbert's backup -- has a huge intangible trait in common with his older brother, who led Texas to 45 victories as a four-year starter.
"He's a leader on the field. It's just natural," Goodwin said.
Gilbert, despite his superior arm strength and five-star pedigree, simply doesn't elicit the hair-on-fire effort from teammates that Texas showed in Saturday's comeback under the direction of McCoy and Ash. That energy translates to both sides of the ball.
Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin praised both of his young quarterbacks, who have combined to throw 15 passes at the college level, but made it clear that he would spend Sunday analyzing videotapes before making a binding personnel decision.
"Can it work? Yes," Harsin said when asked about the possibility of a McCoy-Ash tandem going forward.
Brown said Ash has a "limited package" of roughly five plays -- including one from the Wildcat formation that resulted in a 23-yard reception Saturday -- that figures to be expanded. But it's clear that Ash (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) will be leaned on more as a runner/athlete while McCoy (6-2, 200) projects as more of a thrower. At least for now.
"It can work because...whoever is back there, it's all about Texas winning," Ash said of a multi-quarterback rotation. "The quarterbacks aren't selfish. We're selfless."
McCoy, likewise, endorsed a shared-duty situation
"David has some packages and brings some things to the table that some of us don't," McCoy said. "It's hard to prepare for his package and prepare for all the shifts and motions in our offense. The way we have things rolling right now is great."
Actually, Brown said "good" might be a generous assessment of this team at present. And he's right. "But we are 2-0," Brown said.
And showing some ability to rebound from adversity, which was never the case last season.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760