Week 2 presented the Virginia football program with an opportunity to notch a quality win over the Big 10’s Indiana Hoosiers and a 2-0 start to the 2017 season. Unfortunately, disappointment is the prevailing feeling among Virginia fans in the wake of the Cavaliers’ 34-17 home loss to the Hoosiers.
An overall poor showing from the Cavalier offense, defensive breakdowns once redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey assumed quarterback duties for the Hoosiers, and subpar special teams play ultimately doomed the Hoos in Scott Stadium on Saturday, and now Cavalier fans are left wondering if the rest of the 2017 campaign will produce more of the same.
“You’re never too proud of a loss, but we’ll just let it soak and then move on and get ready to play next week,” Virginia sophomore linebacker Jordan Mack said following his team’s 34-17 home loss to Indiana. “As a defense there were some bright spots but also some spots that we have to fix so it’s all about looking at the film and fixing them and coming back next week and playing harder.”
One of the bright spots on a disappointing day was Mack himself. Junior outside linebacker Malcolm Cook, who had 13 tackles in UVA’s Week 1 win over William & Mary and added five tackles with one tackle for loss against the Hoosiers, and defensive back Juan Thornhill were the Virginia defenders not named Micah Kiser or Quin Blanding to turn in top performances in the season opener. The Indiana game was Mack’s turn to shine in this early season. In just his second career game at inside linebacker (he starts at the Buck position), the 6’2”, 215-pound sophomore finished a career-high 16 tackles and a half a sack.
It’s no surprise to see Mack responding when called upon. As a true freshman last season, the Lithonia (GA) native was asked in preseason camp to move from safety to outside linebacker when Cook was sidelined for the season with myocarditis. Mack, primarily a defensive back in high school, proved to be up to the challenge and appeared in all 12 games, starting nine, while becoming the first true freshman to start at linebacker for the Hoos since Ahmad Brooks did so in 2003.
Mack didn’t just fill a spot on the field in 2016. He shined on some occasions. Against then-No. 24 Oregon at Oregon, Mack broke through with six tackles including 2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He had eight tackles against Duke and seven against North Carolina on his way to 40 tackles on the season. Mack’s most memorable play of 2016 — a sack of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones — earned a shoutout from ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Gotta keep your head on a swivel. https://t.co/OYB4Rkh7qD
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 1, 2016
As far as this season is concerned, there is good reason for skepticism and disappointment following the loss to Indiana. However, if the offense can get on track — a sizable “if” in the wake of Saturday’s performance, I know — and the special teams can improve as well, an athletic and potentially stingy defense with up-and-comers such as Mack could be in place to be the backbone of this team and, hopefully, help the program to a solid season.