CHARLOTTESVILLE — If Jordan Mack was a touch off at times against Pittsburgh, his coaches don’t expect that to last. Having Mack back, they said, is a lift to their defense as they head down the stretch.
Mack, a junior linebacker, had been out since injuring his shoulder in the win over Louisville. He returned to action for Friday night’s loss to the Panthers.
“Naturally, there’s a little rust,” said Mack, who missed four games with the injury. “But when it comes down to it, when I’m out there, I’m just having to play my game. It exposed areas where I can improve.”
Mack made six tackles in the 23-13 loss to the Panthers.
“Jordan did some really good things, and he struggled with some things,” U.Va. co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said. “I think it’s just not playing for a long time, the speed and the physicality of the game. He was off on some run fits but then he made some plays as well. I think it’s just getting back in the swing of things.”
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall had a similar assessment of Mack, who has 26 tackles, including three for losses this season going into Saturday’s home finale against Liberty (4-4), a rare November nonconference game.
“I saw effort and desire, but did I not see precision and consistency,” Mendenhall said. “So looked like his first game back is what it looked like.”
Wednesday, Mendenhall announced that Richmond native Malcolm Cook, a senior inside linebacker, had decided to retire from football. He suffered a sports hernia injury against Indiana that will require surgery, ending his career at Virginia (6-3).
Sophomores Zane Zandier and Rob Snyder have been playing — and playing well — in place of Cook and Mack.
Virginia also won’t have sophomore defensive end Mandy Alonso for the rest of the season. A school spokesman confirmed that Alonso suffered a season-ending injury in Friday night’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Tuesday, Alonso had his left knee in a brace and Poppinga said the team was awaiting test results to determine the extent of his injury.
Alonso’s absence comes at the Cavaliers’ thinnest position. Virginia has played junior Eli Hanback (Patrick Henry) at both nose tackle and defensive end. It has true freshman Aaron Famui at end and true freshman Jordan Redmond as a nose tackle.
With Alonso out, it’s likely Redmond will get the work at nose, allowing Hanback to slide back out to end. Friday, Virginia even played Ohio State graduate transfer Dylan Thompson after Alonso’s injury. Thompson has yet to earn a jersey number but the Cavaliers needed someone in the game against the Panthers.
“Up to this point it’s more of necessity,” Poppinga said of Thompson’s playing time. “He did go in the game on Friday night and do some good things but he still has a long way to go.”
Virginia also has redshirt freshmen Tommy Christ and Isaac Buell, who could see time at end against Liberty.