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Georgia Tech pleased with season, unhappy about end

ATLANTA -- Paul Johnson has much to celebrate from his second season as Georgia Tech's coach, but he's still looking for his first bowl win with the Yellow Jackets.

That will be a top goal for 2010.

The Yellow Jackets won their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, but Tuesday night's 24-14 Orange Bowl loss to Iowa was Georgia Tech's fifth straight bowl loss.

LSU crushed Georgia Tech 38-3 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year. The streak also includes losses in the Humanitarian, Gator and Emerald bowls under Chan Gailey.

Georgia Tech finished 11-3, including a 30-24 home loss to Georgia, leaving Johnson 1-1 in the rivalry.

Johnson said his building process must continue next season.

"We're still trying to lay a base or foundation," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of areas that we need to get better at. We've got some guys hurt in certain areas, and there are still areas that, gosh knows we've got to get a lot better at."

Johnson's spread option offense was productive most of the season before misfiring against Iowa.

The Yellow Jackets averaged 35 points during the regular season, but their only score in the first three quarters of the Orange Bowl was Jerrard Tarrant's 40-yard interception return.

Georgia Tech managed only nine first downs and a season-low 155 yards.

Josh Nesbitt completed only 2 of 9 passes for 12 yards. The run-first option attack was perfect for building and protecting leads through the season but again proved ill-suited for mounting a comeback through the air.

Georgia Tech had a season-high seven punts. Junior Jonathan Dwyer, who had more than 1,300 yards rushing for the second straight season, was held to 49 yards on 14 carries.

"We were our own worst enemy," Johnson said. "We haven't played many games like that. We couldn't seem to get anything going. We couldn't hit a pass play, couldn't hit a big play."

The Yellow Jackets entered the bowl game ranked first in the nation in time of possession, second in rushing and 11th in scoring, but they were hurt by nine penalties.

"You can't beat a good team when you're beating yourself," Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt, a junior, quickly shifted his focus to defending the ACC championship in 2010. He may lose some talented classmates to the NFL draft.

Four juniors -- Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan, safety Morgan Burnett and receiver Demaryius Thomas -- may bypass their senior seasons to enter the draft. Morgan, a possible top-five pick, and Dwyer are rated as probable first-round picks and the most likely to enter the draft.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.

Anthony Allen, a transfer from Louisville who had 626 yards rushing and six touchdowns, could move up as a lead back if Dwyer enters the draft. Allen had a 1-yard touchdown run against Iowa.

Burnett led the team with four interceptions. Morgan, a first-team All-America pick by The Associated Press, ranked among the nation's leaders with 12.5 sacks. Thomas had 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns but was held without a reception against Iowa.

The offense struggled in the bowl game, but the defense was the greater concern through the season. Georgia Tech allowed 24.8 points per game even when helped by the Yellow Jackets' ball-control offense.

"I can't sit here and say that it's improved as the year's gone on," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack last week.

Wommack said the defense was hurt by injuries which forced a midseason shift to a 4-3 alignment.

"We've got some kids that have worked hard," Wommack said. "But we're deficient in some areas. There is no question about that. The kids play hard, and they work hard, but there are have been some deficiencies with our defense this year."

Johnson promised before the bowl game that he will address the problems on defense.

"If I knew exactly what the answer was, we wouldn't be struggling," Johnson said. "I think the players have to be accountable, coaches have to be accountable, and you have to take a good hard look at everything. Trust me, I will."

Johnson must replace special teams coordinator and A-backs coach Jeff Monken, who was named Georgia Southern's head coach on Nov. 29.