ATLANTA - Jack Crowe says he likes Georgia Tech's spread option offense. The Jacksonville State coach especially likes Yellow Jackets running back Junior Jonathan Dwyer.
The 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher and player of the year had a successful debut in coach Paul Johnson's new offense one year ago against Crowe's team. Dwyer rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries in the Yellow Jackets' 41-14 win over the Gamecocks.
Dwyer and No. 15 Georgia Tech are looking for similar success when they open their 2009 season against Jacksonville State today.
Crowe says this may be Dwyer's last college season.
'If he is not the first pick taken in the next NFL draft, I will be surprised,' Crowe said.
Crowe said trying to tackle the 235-pound Dwyer, who boasts power and breakaway speed, 'is probably our biggest challenge.'
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 349 yards and six touchdowns against Jacksonville State in last year's opener in Atlanta.
Johnson returns 17 starters, including quarterback Josh Nesbitt, Dwyer and leading receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Georgia Tech finished 9-4 last year, when Johnson had depth problems at several positions, including running back. Now Johnson has more experienced players behind his starters.
'I think we're going to be better, but I don't know,' Johnson said. 'We could be better and it not show in the first game.'
Dwyer has more help this year, and the improved depth at running back should be noticeable.
Junior Anthony Allen, a transfer from Louisville, and Embry Peeples are the starting A-backs. Roddy Jones, a 2008 starter, returned from a dislocated wrist only a week ago and may be held out against Jacksonville State.
Allen (6-0, 228) rushed for more than 1,000 yards with 20 touchdowns in two seasons at Louisville. He had to watch last season while he sat out as a redshirt following the transfer. Allen says he sees a big change in the execution on offense.
'It's exciting watching how it grew from last year to this year,' Allen said. 'You can watch tape from last year and see little things that went wrong but playmakers made plays. This year it's going so much faster and everybody is making the right blocks and everybody is making the right reads. I'm real excited.'
Preston Lyons is Dwyer's new backup at B-back. Lyons, from Atlanta's Marist School, transferred to Georgia Tech from Colgate and sat out the 2008 season. He also sat out the 2007 season as a redshirt at Colgate and may be a surprise to some fans, according to Johnson.
'Preston Lyons is a guy that has gotten better every week and should help us,' Johnson said.
Johnson cringed when asked if he planned to pull his starters early in the game and give backups some playing time.
'I want to try to win the game so I'm going to do whatever it takes,' he said. 'If we have a chance to play them, yeah they'll play. I want to play everybody but I'm under no illusion that will happen.'
Nesbitt's backup, sophomore Jaybo Shaw, is out with a broken collarbone. Freshman Tevin Washington may play behind Nesbitt.
Nesbitt completed only 43.9 percent of his passes for 808 yards and only two touchdowns last year, but he rushed for 693 yards and seven touchdowns.
Georgia Tech ranked fourth in the nation in rushing last year. Dwyer said the goal is to lead the nation in rushing this year.
'Nesbitt may surprise some people,' Johnson said. 'He is a lot more comfortable doing what he is doing. I think he will be a lot better than he was a year ago. That is just my belief but until you see it happen you just do not know.'
Jacksonville State has a No. 19 FCS national ranking but Crowe suspended quarterback Ryan Perrilloux for violating team rules during the spring.
Sophomore Marques Ivory will make his first start at quarterback.
Ivory was 24-0 as a starter at Northside High in Warner Robins, Ga., and Crowe said the sophomore is 'not an average guy to put in that position.'
'I have had first-start quarterbacks in a lot of places,' Crowe said. 'I don't think I have seen one that has been less affected by all of the circumstances than Marques Ivory. He just rolls with the punches and goes on. Marquis has enormous confidence in himself and is very resourceful. He is not a great talent, but he maybe beyond his years in terms of managing a game.'
SideBar: Georgia Tech vs. Jacksonville State
· When: 1 p.m. today
· Where: Atlanta
· TV/Radio: ESPN360/790-AM