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Jackets hit halfway far past expectations

ATLANTA - Most Georgia Tech football fans would probably say the Yellow Jackets' 5-1 record at the midpoint of the season has exceeded their expectations for the 2008 season before it began.

Ever the perfectionist, coach Paul Johnson has a different outlook, and while he usually prefers to live in the present during a given season, he did take the time during his weekly press conference Tuesday to take a little inventory in his first season as the Jackets' head coach.

"I would've tried to be 6-0 - I wouldn't have taken (5-1)," Johnson said with his customary bluntness. "But you can look at it a couple of ways. I really feel like we should've won the game up at Virginia Tech. I think we were our own worst enemy (that day). I'm sure Boston College feels like they should've won the game up there.

"So, during the run of a season, you're going to get those, and honestly, you've got to take it one game at a time. then, you get through the next three or four games and step back and see where you're at. You're (either) going to be either in a really, really good position or trying to get over .500 or whatever it is you're trying to get. But you can't look ahead. I think we might've been a little guilty of that last (Saturday)."

Indeed, such looking ahead may at least partially explain what was easily Tech's worst game of the season in a narrow 10-7 escape of Division I-AA Gardner-Webb last Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Still, that performance has been an aberration in what has otherwise been a solid start for the Jackets as they head into this week's game at Clemson.

At the same time, however, Saturday is also somewhat symbolic of the growing pains of a young Tech team - especially one still adjusting to Johnson's unique option-based spread offense that is a radical change from last year's.

The fact the Jackets have been somewhat inconsistent in executing that offense - rolling for 500 yards in a 38-7 rout of Mississippi State and erupting for 24 second-half points in a 27-3 win over Duke, while also struggling mightily in the Virginia Tech game and against Gardner-Webb - isn't that surprising.

That's little consolation for Johnson, as is the series of injuries the Jackets have endured - especially at quarterback, where starter Josh Nesbitt (hamstring) and backup Jaybo Shaw (concussion) have missed time after having some impressive moments early on, though both have returned to practice - have also proved disruptive.

"I'd have liked more consistency, and I think we'd have been better if we could've kept the guys out there," Johnson said.

"We've played six games and we've played three quarterbacks, and it's not because they got banged up carrying the ball.

"Josh pulls a hamstring running down the sidelines. I think he was just starting to come into his own and feel comfortable with what he's doing, and now he's out for three weeks. Jaybo had come in and played really well against Mississippi State and done some good things against Duke. We'd have liked to have had him last week. And it's like I said about our offensive line - it's put together with bailing wire and duct tape right now. (B-Back) Quincy Kelly's been out now for three weeks, which puts a real burden on Jon Dwyer, and it also puts a burden on Lucas Cox.

"So, I think we're making progress, but it would be far better if we could've had some consistency and stayed away from injuries."

What has been consistent for Tech has been the running of Dwyer - second in the ACC with 575 yards and four touchdowns despite only 27 yards last week - and a defense led by linemen Derrick Morgan, Michael Johnson, Darryl Richard and Vance Walker, plus safety Morgan Burnett, that ranks first in the ACC and fourth nationally by allowing just 10.7 points per game.

And while last Saturday's narrow win over a I-AA team has left a bad taste in his players' mouths and raised some questions, Johnson also knows that getting the home stretch of the season off to a good start with a win over Clemson can put that game to rest.

"We were fortunate to get the win (last Saturday) and its like I told the team Monday, you go to Clemson and play a good game and win, nobody remembers the last one," Johnson said. "So, we need to get ready to play."