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Johnson to unveil new offense against Jacksonville State
Georgia Tech’s first-year coach Paul Johnson looks on during the first preseason football practice in Atlanta. Johnson will put Tech’s new offense to the test tonight in the Yellow Jackets’ season opener against Jacksonville State in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazemore

ATLANTA — Jack Crowe says he doesn’t know what to expect from Georgia Tech.

Maybe the Jacksonville State coach won’t be at a disadvantage in tonight’s opener. First-year Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson also says he can’t predict what may happen when his new players play their first game.

“Nobody knows anything about this football team,” Johnson said. “They haven’t played a game. Who knows what happens? We might go out there (tonight) and it might be 3-0. It might also be 46-43. Nobody knows.”

This much Johnson knows: If the score is 3-0, critics will attack his triple-option offense, a scheme he prefers to call a spread option.

“I don’t think it will ever stop,” said Johnson. “As soon as you lose a game, that’s going to be the reason.”

Johnson’s new offense will share the spotlight with Jacksonville State’s new quarterback, LSU transfer Ryan Perrilloux.

Perrilloux will be making his second start in Atlanta. He was named MVP of last season’s Southeastern Conference championship game victory over Tennessee

Perrilloux was kicked off the LSU team for off-the-field problems, including missing classes and a team meeting and getting caught trying to use a false ID to get into a Baton Rouge casino.

Johnson said he doesn’t expect Jacksonville State to make dramatic changes on offense for Perrilloux, but Crowe hinted that’s just what he has done.

“They are looking at an offense that’s been retooled for a new quarterback and so on, so it’s gonna make a real interesting start to a football game,” Crowe said. “I don’t think anybody will be able to sit in the stands and say ‘Well, anybody can call those plays. That’s the same thing they’ve been doing.’

“Fans aren’t gonna be bored. Everything they see will be the first time they’ve ever seen it. Both sides of the ball and on both sidelines.”

Johnson has had big success with his option offense at Georgia Southern, where he won two national championships, Hawaii and Navy. Even so, since he was hired to replace Chan Gailey there have been questions about how the offense will work in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Even Johnson appeared worried last Thursday when he talked about seeing too many “malfunctions” in his team’s practice game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Since then, Johnson and his players have been more upbeat, insisting they’ll be ready to unveil a more polished version of the new offense in the season opener.

“In the spring it was a big problem,” said senior offensive tackle Andrew Gardner this week, referring to the learning process on offense.

“Thinking gets you beat. People jump offsides, it makes people play slow and that type thing. I think it’s getting to be much less of a problem and it’s getting to where it’s more reactionary, which is what it needs to be for football. Things are clicking right now. As long as we don’t turn the ball over this year, I think we have a chance to have a very good season.”

Sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt is expected to make his first start. Johnson also plans to play Flowery Branch graduate and Tech freshman Jaybo Shaw.

Jonathan Dwyer, who rushed for nine touchdowns as Tashard Choice’s backup last season, is expected to be the featured running back.

Crowe says Dwyer is a perfect fit for the offense, even better than Adrian Peterson, who helped lead Johnson’s Georgia Southern team to two national championships. Crowe says containing Dwyer “is a phenomenal issue for us.”

Johnson calls Dwyer a “B-back,” but Crowe calls the position, which lines up behind the quarterback in a three-point stance, a fullback playing in a “fullback-first” offense.

“I think in Jonathan Dwyer, they probably have a better player than they’ve ever had at that position,” Crowe said. “I have great respect for him.

“I don’t know if they ever could have recruited Jonathan to play fullback in this offense, but he’s probably perfect.... I think you’d have to go back to (Earl) Campbell at Texas, to where you had such a great athlete running in such a similar situation.”

The 228-pound Dwyer will be joined by two “A-backs.” Freshman Roddy Jones is a small, quick back. Sophomore Lucas Cox, a transfer from Connecticut and the younger brother of former Georgia Tech fullback Mike Cox, is listed as the other starter.

“We definitely do a lot more blocking than in the old offense,” said Jones, who sat out the 2007 season as a redshirt. “In the new offense we’re lined up almost on the line outside of the tackles.

“It’s a different view for me and it’s a different type running, too. We do a lot of outside running and catch a lot of passes, too.”

Johnson says he has seen “a lot of progress” on offense.

“Can we carry it from the practice fields to the game field?” Johnson asked. “I don’t know.”

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