By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: After winning nine games in his first season at the helm at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson gave quite an encore performance, as he not only led his Yellow Jackets to a school record 13th consecutive bowl game, but
posted 11 victories overall (most since 1990 National Championship team) and
took home the ACC title. The team's lone regular-season losses came at Miami
early on and against rival Georgia late in the season, with an eight game win
streak sandwiched in between, including a statement win over Virginia Tech
(28-23) and a nailbiter against Wake Forest (30-27 in OT). Winning the Coastal
Division certainly didn't come easy, but the Yellow Jackets made it to Tampa
where they took on a Clemson team they snuck by at home in early September
(30-27). In perhaps the most memorable and spirited ACC title game to date,
Tech came out on top, in a 39-34 slugfest. The reward was Georgia Tech's first
appearance in the Orange Bowl since 1966 and although the outcome of the clash
with Iowa was not a favorable one for the Yellow Jackets (24-14 loss), it was
still a hugely successful year for Johnson and his team.
OFFENSE: Whoever said that "one-trick ponies" fail to achieve sustained
success has never enjoyed Johnson's offensive strategy on gameday. The Yellow
Jackets had no secret to the way they were going to move the football last
year and of the team's hefty 422.1 yards of total offense per outing, a
punishing 295.4 came on the ground. The loss of standout tailback Jonathan
Dwyer (1,395 yards, 14 TDs) would seem like a tough thing to overcome, but the
Yellow Jackets do return versatile QB Joshua Nesbitt (1,037 yards rushing, 18
TDs) and 6-0,239-pound senior RB Anthony Allen (618 yards, 9.7 ypc, six TDs).
Allen will now step in and take over the lion's share of the carries, but the
concern is if he can prevent there from being a dropoff in production.
According to Johnson, there shouldn't be.
"I think Anthony is a very good player. I hope our production doesn't drop off
at that position and I don't think it will."
He will also utilize Nesbitt a great deal, who is and always will be a threat
to run the ball. Two areas of concern heading into 2010 however, are the loss
of three starters along the offensive line and the premature departure of
standout WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos). Senior center Sean Bedford
(6-1, 274) will be tasked with bringing the line together and he is as good as
it comes at the pivot, earning All-ACC First-Team honors in 2009.
DEFENSE: The Tech defense had its ups and downs a season ago and probably
should have been better than it was, considering the talent throughout. With
eight starters returning to the mix, and the addition of Al Groh as the
defensive coordinator, there is hope for more consistency in 2010.
Johnson certainly sees the new addition as a plus.
"Al is a great football coach. He has a lot of energy and I think he's going
to be good for our program. We're excited about having a guy like that on our
staff. I think our players are excited about the direction."
Still, it won't be easy to assuage the loss of star-caliber players like rush
end Derrick Morgan (first-round pick), linebacker Sedric Griffin and safety
Morgan Burnett. Senior LB Brad Jefferson returns to the fold and will take on
more of a leadership role in 2010, after earning All-ACC Third-Team honors a
year ago, with a team-high 95 tackles. The defensive line does return three
starters as does the secondary, highlighted by big play corners in Mario
Butler (45 tackles, two INTs) and Jerrard Tarrant (58 tackles, two INTs).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game returns intact, as senior PK Scott Blair and
junior P Chandler Anderson are ready to go in 2010. Blair was 14-of-20 on
field-goal attempts in 2009, but was an impressive 5-of-7 from beyond 40
yards. Anderson had a strong season as well, averaging 42.3 yards per punt and
leading the ACC in net average at 38.1. Tarrant was responsible for two scores
on defense and another two on punt returns and he will once again bring his
playmaking ability to the return game this season.
OUTLOOK: This may be somewhat of a down year in Atlanta, although the team
probably still has enough talent to make it 14 postseason appearances in a
row. However, matching last year's 11 wins isn't feasible. The non-conference
schedule is a bit week, with South Carolina State, Kansas, Middle Tennessee
and Georgia on the docket, all but Georgia representing winnable games. The
ACC slate is extremely tough though, especially on the road, where Tech must
take on the likes of North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
NC State, Virginia, Miami and Duke come to Bobby Dodd Stadium and there are
probably three more wins there. The Yellow Jackets will have to win some close
games on the road this year, but Johnson's offensive philosophy is ball
control and that should help in such situations down the stretch. Winning a
second straight ACC crown isn't likely, but being competitive week-in and
week-out is almost a guarantee.