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Tech looks to hit the ground running
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ATLANTA — While there will be no rest for Georgia Tech after Saturday's opener against Jacksonville State, the No. 15 Yellow Jackets aren't coasting into matchup.

Georgia Tech has only five days after the opener to prepare for Thursday night's game against Clemson. The team will practice on Sunday, a day when players normally review game film and have team meetings.

"Getting ready for Clemson is going to be a chore," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson before adding "but right now our focus is on Jacksonville State."

Johnson had a quick and firm response when asked if he included any practice time for Clemson in his team's preparation for Jacksonville State.

"We did not do it, have not done it all and will not," Johnson said. "I think it sends the wrong message. I want to beat Jacksonville State. We are going to make sure we get ready for Jacksonville State."

Georgia Tech plays two straight Thursday night games in its opening stretch of three games in 12 days. The stretch concludes with a Sept. 17 game at Miami.

There will be so little time between the Jacksonville State and Clemson games that Johnson is counting the hours. He says it's no small matter that his team has a 1 p.m. kickoff against Jacksonville State, five hours before Clemson faces Middle Tennessee.

Johnson said fans who have asked why Saturday's game was set for a 1 p.m. kickoff do not understand that "1 is a great start for us."

"That's five hours these guys are going to have to rest before they come back and practice on Sunday," Johnson said.

Georgia Tech's history of maintaining focus has not been consistent under Johnson. One year ago, Georgia Tech struggled to a 10-7 win over Gardner-Webb one week before facing Clemson.

"There is a history when you look ahead and it is not pretty," Johnson said.

More recently, Georgia Tech appeared to be looking back when it suffered a 38-3 loss to Louisiana State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta after its 45-42 win over Georgia to close the regular season.

"That is what I am thinking about," said Johnson of the loss to LSU. "We need to get that one behind us. I want to get the next one so we can move on. We have had to live with that game since we played it. Hopefully, we learned a lesson.

"We will find out Saturday if we did or not."

Georgia Tech's September schedule also includes a Sept. 26 home game against North Carolina. By October, Johnson could have a good idea if his team can improve on its 9-4 record in 2008 and move up in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Yellow Jackets beat the Gamecocks 41-14 to open last season. Jacksonville State returns 19 starters from its 8-3 team and has a No. 19 FCS ranking.

Jacksonville State also has a tough schedule after Saturday's game. The Gamecocks play at No. 18 Florida State on Sept. 12 and have road games at Alabama A&M and Nicholls State before their first home game on Oct. 3.

"I don't want anybody to think that this is just an average September for a football team," said Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe. "This is no average September, this is one heck of a September. Anyone who thinks it isn't needs to come stand on the sidelines and walk across that line."

Georgia Tech won national respect — and the No. 15 preseason ranking — by returning 17 starters from the nine-win team.

"Basically after the first snap of the Jacksonville State game, last year is forgotten," said offensive guard Cord Howard, who says the Georgia Tech players have remained humble and hungry.

"You're never as good as you think," Howard said. "We don't want anybody to get the big head about it. We're appreciative that people are actually noticing, but pretty much the best is yet to come."

Johnson winced when asked if he is planning to give his top starters, including quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running back Jonathan Dwyer, an early rest on Saturday.

Each player is crucial to Georgia Tech's chances in the ACC.

Nesbitt, a junior, is the team's only healthy quarterback with any game experience. Backup Jaybo Shaw is out with a broken collarbone.

Dwyer, who rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries against Jacksonville State last year, is the 2008 ACC player of the year. He led the ACC with 1,395 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.