Without Mack, 'Hoos young at inside linebacker

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Jordan Mack will spend the first half of Virginia's critical Coastal Division game at North Carolina on Saturday night watching from the Cavaliers' locker room -- just as the senior inside linebacker did for most of the second half of last weekend's loss at Louisville.

Mack was called for targeting on a third down incompletion by the Cardinals, giving Louisville a first down on what eventually became a game-tying touchdown drive in the third quarter of a 28-21 loss. Because of that targeting call, Mack was ejected for the rest of that game, and will finish his suspension during the first half of this weekend's game.

"The impact was huge," UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said on Monday. "There was a third down stop. It's a defensive captain on a play and a ruling I didn't agree with, and still don't."

Mack had three tackles on the afternoon when he was ejected last Saturday. For the season, he's tied for third on the UVA defense with 44 tackles -- and tied for second in the ACC with seven sacks.

The Cavaliers are already without Rob Snyder, who they lost for the season with a leg injury last month, as part of their rotation at inside linebacker. For the first half on Saturday, they'll have leading tackler Zane Zandier and a pair of first-year players, Nick Jackson and Josh Ahern.

"We like their capability, we like their mindset. What we don't like is their experience, as they're getting experience," Mendenhall said. "But this week of practice will certainly help. They both will have to step up, because they are our depth now, at least for the first half, and one is the starter and one is the backup, our third linebacker in."

Ahern has only appeared in one game this season, finishing with a pair of tackles in the Cavaliers' 48-14 win at home against Duke two weeks ago.

Jackson has appeared in all eight games. Though most of that time has come on special teams, Jackson took over when Mack was ejected on Saturday, registering four tackles. He has nine total tackles on the season, and is expected to make his first career start in place of Mack on Saturday night in Chapel Hill.

"Nick is really smart. And him being able to keep up with the insertion -- not only physically, but mentally -- but he has the ability to play and make plays, and he tries hard," Mendenhall said. "He's adjusted to the culture, he's embraced the culture, he's a capable playmaker and he's smart. When he came in, it was not Jordan Mack, and there was a drop-off. But under the circumstances I was really happy with the way he played."

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