CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nick Jackson has started 27 straight games at inside linebacker for Virginia, a streak that will end Saturday when the team takes the field against Duke in Durham, N.C.
Jackson must sit out the first half after being ejected during the Cavaliers’ road loss at Syracuse for a targeting infraction.
It’s a call the veteran linebacker said he can’t argue with.
“Textbook. My head was down. Bottom line. So by rule, that is targeting,” Jackson said of third-quarter hit on Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader. “There was nothing malicious about that. It was definitely just me trying to make a play.”
His coaches agreed.
“From a coaching standpoint, Nick needs to keep his chin up,” said UVA defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. “If he keeps his chin, he doesn’t run into that issue. We want to make football safe. That’s the objective. It’s always tough to lose somebody but as much as we can, we have to eliminate guys putting their heads down.”
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Jackson’s absence means Virginia (2-2, 0-1 ACC) will likely give junior D’Sean Perry his first college start at Duke (3-1, 0-0), a team the Cavaliers have beaten seven straight times. Perry, a Florida native, had only played in nine games entering this season, recording two career tackles.
This year, he’s worked both at inside linebacker and at UVA’s bandit spot, an edge rush position that is part defensive end, part outside linebacker in Rudzinski’s multiple-front scheme.
“It’s no pressure at all,” Perry said Wednesday. “I’ve been preparing a long time for this. This is my opportunity to shine in the moment. I’ve got to take advantage of it and go. I know what to do and how to do it. Now I just have to go execute and play. It’s an opportunity and I’m going to rise to the challenge.”
Jackson has been one of the ACC’s most productive defensive players the past two seasons. This year, he’s on pace to put up more gaudy numbers. He has 41 stops through the first four games, to go with two sacks.
But Jackson’s value to the Virginia defense transcends his impressive statistics.
“He’s a huge part of our defense, huge leader,” said sophomore backup linebacker Josh Jackson. “We’re definitely going to miss him, but it’s a good opportunity for the rest of us to come together.”