HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson (117-43 overall, 10-4 at Georgia Tech)
STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (10 – offense, 7 – defense, 1 - kicker)
KEY PLAYERS: RB Jonathan Dwyer (6-0,228), QB Josh Nesbitt (6-1,214), WR Demaryius Thomas (6-3,229), S Morgan Burnett (6-1,198), P/PK Scott Blair (6-0,173), LB Sedric Griffin (5-11,239), DE Derrick Morgan (6-4, 272)
LAST MEETING: Georgia Tech 21 Clemson 17 (2008)
POINT SPREAD: Tech favored by 4.5
WHAT WE SAID IN THE PRESEASON: Georgia Tech was considered a relative unknown entering the 2008 season thanks to the arrival of former Navy head coach Paul Johnson and the switch to his unorthodox triple-option offense. Several players elected to transfer upon his arrival and most pundits had doubts his offense would work in the defensive-oriented ACC.
One year later, those questions and any other concerns exist no more.
After leading the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 record, including an incredible 45-42 come-from-behind win at arch rival Georgia (Tech's first win against UGA since 1999), Paul Johnson has served notice: the Yellow Jackets are back and ready to contend for an ACC Championship.
Leading the way this coming season will be the ACC's 2008 Player of the Year, RB Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer rushed for almost 1,400 yards last season, ranking 21st nationally at 107.3 yards per game and is considered by some to be a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
And it doesn't stop there when it comes to quality running backs. Dwyer, a senior, will be joined by former Louisville standout Anthony Allen, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in his first two seasons with the Cardinals before transferring to Atlanta, as well as the ever-improving Roddy Jones.
Considering Paul Johnson's coached teams have finished no lower than fourth in the nation in rushing in each of the last seven seasons, it seems like a safe bet to assume Dwyer and his cohorts are bound for big things once again in 2009.
At quarterback, the somewhat reliable Josh Nesbitt and the explosive Jaybo Shaw will both see the field in 2009. Neither signal caller scares you in the passing game, but Johnson said after spring practice he's seen significant improvement.
"I think Josh has gotten better in the spring. He ran a completely different offense than he ever had before and he got thrown in after only having six days of spring practice. So this year he's gotten much more experience just like Jaybo has and hopefully that will show in the season.
"It's like night and day from a year ago. I think they will both continue to get better the more they play. We have to get better on passing game and it's not just Josh or Jaybo, it's running routes and blocking."
Nesbitt, rushed for 693 yards and threw for 808 yards a year ago and figures to be the starter this season, but again, Shaw will also provide an added spark when called upon. Both quarterbacks will throw to the vastly underrated Demaryius Thomas, who caught the game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass from Nesbitt against Clemson last year.
The questions for the Yellow Jackets begin up front, where both starting offensive tackles must be replaced on offense and three starters (all with NFL talent) must be replaced on defense. How quickly last year's reserves can step into the extremely large holes left by DE Michael Johnson, DT Vance Walker and DT Darryl Richard will go a long way in determining if Tech is a serious contender in the ACC or not.
Still, always sound defensively, the Yellow Jackets return seven starters overall, including a wealth of talent at linebacker and safety. Cornerback Jerrard Tarrant, who was suspended for the entire 2008 season, is also back.
ONE WEEK IN: Backup quarterback Jaybo Shaw was lost during preseason for six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone and the Yellow Jackets easily defeated Jacksonville State in week one, 37-17. Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 95 yards and two scores, while Anthony Allen had a touchdown catch in the win.
Josh Nesbitt also finished 6-for-11 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown throw and also rushed for 93 yards and a score as Tech rolled up 497 yards of total offense.
DID YOU KNOW? Paul Johnson won more games in 2008 than any other first-year coach in Yellow Jacket history.
YELLOW JACKET QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can always come up with a question for anything but you have to look at history. At Georgia Southern we played the same teams for five years and won the league five years. People are going to get better defending what we do but we are going to get better running it too. We didn't run it very well last year. It will be a move, counter-move. In some ways it's funny because you play against a pro-style offense for 20 years. Do you get better defending it? Anytime you do something different people are always going to question it." – Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.
An early look: Georgia Tech
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