Georgia Tech welcoming higher expectations in '09

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and B-back Jonathan Dwyer were honored Wednesday morning at the state Capitol, where they visited the House and Senate chambers, and were commended for their 9-4 season in 2008.

It only took one season for Johnson to turn skeptics of his offense into believers (some of the congressmen are Georgia alumni).

The mystique surrounding Johnson's offense has been replaced by higher expectations, and Georgia Tech should earn a top 20 ranking heading into 2009. It's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Jackets were picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division, and many outside the program didn't know what to expect from new offensive and defensive schemes and a new coaching staff. Dwyer said the increased expectations are a welcome change during winter conditioning as they prepare for 2009.

"All that does is motivate us," said Dwyer, who averaged 107.3 rushing yards per game and was named the ACC's Player of the Year. "We want to live up to the hype and realize the opportunity we have if we do what we're supposed to do and win games. I'm excited about how much respect now we're getting. We have to feed off that and just keep earning respect 'til we reach the top and realize the opportunity we have as a team going in if we're nationally ranked. All we have to do is win all of our games and maybe we'll have a shot to be in the national championship and win the ACC."

Georgia Tech had a shot to win the ACC in Johnson's first season as the Jackets finished in a tie for first place in the Coastal Division with Virginia Tech at 5-3. It was an extremely young team that returns the bulk of its offense in Dwyer, A-back Roddy Jones, B-back Lucas Cox and quarterbacks Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw.

"Everybody will know what's going on more and be under the same system from last year," Dwyer said. "They haven't changed anything, so I think we'll have a lot more leadership coming back. We lost some important leadership last year, but being young and starting early and everybody being real close as a family, and playing for each other, that will help us next year."

There is more depth at the running back position, which should allow Dwyer to take a few plays off. The incorporation of Anthony Allen and Richard Watson into the lineup could allow for Dwyer to have some company in the backfield. It's also possible he could see some time at the A-back position, which is more like a slot back instead of a fullback.

"It's something I experienced a little bit this year, and something I'm willing to do and willing to learn," Dwyer said. "It will probably make me more versatile and get everyone more playing time. If that's what they want me to play, that's what I'll have to adjust to and do my best to help my team win."

The Jackets relished their role as underdogs in 2008, but the accolades and attention the team received after beating rival Georgia and heading into the Chick-fil-A Bowl might have contributed to their flat performance in the 38-3 loss to LSU. Dwyer said that game was a very humbling experience.

"It changed what we thought about what we needed to do," Dwyer said. "I think it changed the whole program, us and the coaches, knowing what our strengths and what our weaknesses are, and knowing what we have to improve on going into next year."