2019 Orange Bowl Notes: Virginia Football Prepares For Florida Without Jordan Mack

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The University of Virginia defense will have to slow down No. 9 Florida’s offense without senior linebacker Jordan Mack, who, as reported by Damon Dillman of CBS 19 and others, is sporting a cast on his right lower leg and appears out for the 2019 Orange Bowl.

Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall noted following Virginia’s loss to Clemson in the 2019 ACC Championship that Mack was substantially less than 100% health-wise. The senior captain, who missed the entire second half of the ACC title game, has been hampered by a lower right extremity injury since as early as second half of Virginia’s November 3 win at North Carolina.

Mack played through the injury in UVA’s final three regular season contests against Georgia Tech, Liberty and Virginia Tech, as well as the first half against Clemson. He had six tackles, including five solo efforts, and a forced fumble in the 39-30 win over the Hokies.

Assuming Mack’s career at Virginia is indeed over, Nick Jackson is his likely replacement in the starting lineup. The 6’1”, 225-pound true freshman has played in all 13 of UVA’s games this season, seeing significant action at inside linebacker while also playing special teams. He started against North Carolina in place of Mack, who missed the first half against the Tar Heels as a result of a targeting call the previous week against Louisville. Jackson has amassed 24 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a half a sack in his rookie campaign. He had a career-high nine tackles against Clemson.

Mack enjoyed a terrific career at Virginia both on and off the field. As one of Mendenhall’s “pioneers” he helped establish a new culture at UVA while also helping the football program increase its win total each of the past four years, win a bowl game for the first time since 2005, capture the ACC Coastal Division for the first time ever, and defeat Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003.

Mendenhall took time to acknowledge Mack and the rest of the senior class when the Hoos arrived in South Florida.

“Coach stood up all the seniors and he expressed his gratitude for us and how we were his first class, acknowledging where we started and where we’re at right now,” senior cornerback and fellow captain Bryce Hall, who was lost for the season with an ankle injury suffered against Miami on October 11. “He took that time and really just showed his gratitude and appreciation, which is something that is so cool because you get in a mode trying to be focused, but at the same time you don’t ever want to forget what got you here.”

Thrust into a significant role as a true freshman, Mack started nine games and played in 12 games total en route to earning Athlon Sports second-team Freshman All-ACC in 2016. He was the first true freshman to start the season opener at linebacker since Ahmad Brooks in 2003. Mack started all 13 games for the Cavaliers in 2017 and finished with 114 tackles, good for fifth in the ACC that season.

In his third year Mack missed four games due to injury. He started nine including the 2018 Belk Bowl, in which he racked up eight tackles and a sack as the Cavaliers took apart SEC-foe South Carolina. Mack established career bests in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (7.5) as a senior, earning All-ACC Third Team honors for his performance. He received the 2019 Jim Tatum Award – an honor given to the ACC’s top student athlete – and was a finalist for the 2019 Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the top student athlete in all of Division 1 football.

Cavalier Program Learning, Growing From Past Experiences

Virginia football – especially the defense – hopes the experience of playing No. 3 Clemson in the ACC title game will help against No. 9 Florida. ~ Photo by Mike Ingalls

The 2017 Military Bowl, Virginia’s first bowl berth since 2011 and the first of the Bronco Mendenhall era, ended with Navy handing the Cavaliers a sound 49-7 thumping. Despite the blowout loss to end the season, the Cavaliers increased their win total from two games in 2016 to six games.

Building on the progress made in 2017 while also adding an important piece in quarterback Bryce Perkins, UVA football won seven regular season games in 2018, earning a trip to the Belk Bowl as a result. Learning from the lessons of the drubbing in Annapolis, UVA prepared better and subsequently walloped South Carolina to finish the season at 8-5.

Virginia enters the 2019 Orange Bowl with nine wins and a division title, but also coming off a humbling 62-17 defeat to Clemson in the 2019 ACC Championship game. The Cavaliers have shown the ability to grow and learn from the experiences of previous seasons. The lopsided loss to Clemson could help the Hoos learn and grow in-season against another top-10 opponent in Florida.

“Yeah, I think it was almost a reality check for us, where we needed to be and how to play an opponent like that, of that caliber,” UVA senior defensive lineman Eli Hanback said of the Clemson loss.

“This is a big stage against a great opponent, and we played a great opponent at Clemson,” Hanback said. “We didn’t play our best game, and we had to play our best game against one of the best teams, defending national champions. That’s something we’ve focused on, and really just focusing on doing your 1/11th, your one job, your one assignment for whatever position you’re playing, and for us to be successful, each guy, all 11 guys have to do their job and not focusing on anything else. We think if we do that, we’ll be successful.”

“We’ve been anxious to get here and compete and after our loss in the ACC Championship, we’ve been eager to get back out and play football again,” Perkins said.

The chance to become the second team in school history to win 10 games and the opportunity to make a statement on a national stage are adding fuel to Virginia’s fire.

“[A victory] would mean the world for everybody because like just coming from 2-10 a few years ago, this is a huge jump,” redshirt junior defensive lineman and Miami native Mandy Alonso said. “To be on such a big-time bowl game that this stage is like set perfectly for us to rebuild this program.”

“Only one other team has reached 10 wins at UVA, so that kind of just frames it right there,” Perkins said. “Looking back to where coach Mendenhall first started to with six, then eight, then this year with nine wins, it speaks to the culture of this team.”

Junior safety Joey Blount said: “We’d be the second team in UVA history with a 10-win season, another SEC opponent that we can really face and show the world of college football that UVA is an up and coming program, that it’s a force to be reckoned with, and that this opponent right here is very important.”

Coach Mendenhall wants his team to enjoy the Orange Bowl experience while also helping the program move forward.

“I think framing is everything,” Mendenhall said. “The bowl experience and the whole Orange Bowl experience is an educational and life transformative event for all of our players. That’s a part of what college is, but so is preparing and performing well when you have an opportunity. Balancing life is a part of becoming an adult and this will be a great test and challenge for them to learn, grow and advance.”

Florida’s Passing Attack Poses Problems

Florida ranks no. 109 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 120.3 yards per game. While the Gators do not possess the offensive balance of Clemson, their passing game is formidable. Quarterback Kyle Trask spearheads an air attack that is both productive (300.4 yards per game, good for no. 17 in the nation) and efficient (159.68 rating, good for no. 14 in the nation).

Trask, who is 6’5”, 240 pounds, has started the final nine games after the Gators lost starter Felipe Franks to injury on September 14 against Kentucky. Trask rallied the Gators to victory over the Wildcats, completing 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards in relief of Franks. On the season he has completed 67.6% of his passes (213-of-315) with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions.

“Yeah, I think he just fits really well in the scheme that they’re doing,” Virginia Co-Defensive Coordinator Nick Howell said. “I think if you’re a quarterback and you drop back and it’s not a guy or two guys but multiple guys that you can throw the ball to in a scheme that is really good, he has a lot of options, he’s a big-bodied kid, know what I mean? He’s not going down easy. He’s got a really strong arm. So those are the things that stand out to me.”

“I mean, I think these guys are more sophisticated in their pass game,” Howell added. “But I think a lot depends on the quarterback, as well. They’re doing things that are really good for this quarterback and the quarterback that they had previously, which are pretty similar. So I think that their ability to adapt to that quarterback has been good. So have we played somebody like this this year? I don’t think so. You know, it’s not as RPO-ish. There is some, but this guy is more of a drop back, get the ball to guys, different route concepts. So yeah, this is definitely I would say different than others that we’ve faced.”

Virginia’s Blount complimented Trask, saying, “Just his composure in the pocket. He is not very riled up. He stands strong in the pocket. Even when the pocket is closing around him, he’ll stand on the reads, wait until the last minute and make the throw. Just his size and strength, honestly. He’s a big guy at 6’5″, 240 I’m pretty sure, and he just stands out. He has a quarterback body, and I like his arm strength and his decision making. It looks like he’s reading the defense before the ball is snapped. For a guy who’s never really been starting, I think he’s done a really good job coming in for this program.”

Mack’s departure puts Virginia’s defense down three starters from the unit that started the season. All-American cornerback Bryce Hall and speedy safety Brenton Nelson are the other two. The loss of two starters in the secondary, as well as rotational corner Darrius Bratton in the preseason, has put the UVA secondary into scramble mode. The Hoos hope the added time to prep for Florida will help, especially with inexperienced players such as redshirt sophomore Heskin Smith Jr. playing key roles.

“They do a good job of throwing a lot of things at you, and so I think that’s one benefit of playing them in a bowl game is we have more time to kind of get ready for all of that rather than trying to get ready for it in four or five days in a regular week,” junior outside linebacker Charles Snowden said. “So I think they do a lot of things really well. I’m excited.”

Bowl Week

It has been non-stop action for Virginia since the Hoos arrived in South Florida on Thursday. The team enjoyed dinner Thursday night at Texas De Brazil. An AvMed Orange Bowl coaches luncheon, practice and a charity dinner outing at Dave & Buster’s were part of Friday’s itinerary. UVA had its final practice of the season Saturday from 12:40 – 2 p.m. and is scheduled to enjoy a team beach outing Saturday afternoon.

Courtesy of Virginia Football’s official Twitter account, there have been videos and photos aplenty from UVA’s Orange Bowl experience.

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. So, the stage is set!
    Every single UVA fan really just wants one thing to happen: that everyone plays to the best of his ability for an hour of time “between the whistles” … that’s it… and let the cookie crumble as it might….
    GO HOOS, JUST DO IT!
    Tom Hodgson
    UVA, 1961

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