1. Opponents have caught up to Paul Johnson’s offense. Were that the case, wouldn’t Georgia Tech have struggled later in 2008 as more tape of the Jackets became available? Yet in their final two regular-season games against opponents of comparable if not superior talent (Miami and Georgia), they rushed for an aggregate 877 yards and scored 86 points.
2. LSU showed everyone else how to defend Johnson’s offense. What the Chick-fil-A Bowl showed was that if, in the course of one half, you boot the opening kickoff out of bounds and fail on an onside kick and whiff on a fake punt … well, you’re in trouble against a good team. The Jackets lost 38-3 but were only outgained by 10 yards.
3. The defense lost too many players. The D is missing four starters — defensive linemen Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, plus cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels. And technically (ha! pun!), Rashaad Reid, who’s back, started more games last season than did Word-Daniels. And the best of the defensive linemen, end Derrick Morgan, returns in all his glory.
4. Tech can’t throw and catch to save its life. There aren’t 10 better receivers in the land than Damaryius Thomas, known as Bay-Bay. He took in 39 of the Jackets’ 74 completions last season and had nine catches of 20-plus yards. He can get downfield, and he can go get the ball.
5. The rest of the ACC will be ready this time. In Johnson’s second season as head coach at Georgia Southern, his Eagles played nine teams they’d met in his first season. They were 8-1 against those nine in Year 1; they were 9-0 in Year 2. In his second season at Navy, his Midshipmen faced five teams against which they’d gone 1-4 in Year 1; they went 4-1 in Year 2.
(OK, Tech fans. That’s the good news. The bad news comes with our companion list: 5 legit reasons Georgia Tech could disappoint in 2009. Finally, defensive end Derrick Morgan tells us why the Jackets are the real deal.)