Relentless Burr-Kirven is tackling machine for Washington

Tim May
Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven returns an interception against Colorado during an Oct. 25 game in which he also recorded 15 tackles. [Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press]

LOS ANGELES — First, there is the name that catches the eye: Ben Burr-Kirven.

Then there is this stat: 165 tackle participations this season.

Don’t adjust your bifocals. That’s what it says in Washington’s Rose Bowl media guide — 165 tackles by the senior linebacker, 97 more than the closest other defender, fellow linebacker Tevis Bartlett.

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Although some might blink in disbelief, Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day has watched Washington’s defense enough in preparation for the Rose Bowl on Tuesday to certify that the name and number of tackles are accurate.

“He jumps out because he’s in on every play,” Day said Saturday of the 6-foot, 221-pound Burr-Kirven, out of Menlo Park, California. “He’s right there every time.”

There’s a reason, Burr-Kirven said.

“I love playing football, I love making plays,” he said. “I love playing linebacker and tackling people, and I get annoyed when I don’t get to be part of a tackle.

“That’s kind of how it’s always been. I love to get to play this game, and every opportunity to go out there I want to be in there hitting people, having fun. And obviously I’ve gotten to have a lot of fun this year because I’ve been in on a lot of tackles.”

Only one opponent topped 24 points on the Huskies this season, and that was Oregon in a 30-27 overtime win. Burr-Kirven is a major reason for the Huskies’ stopping power.

“He diagnoses plays at a high, high level, and plays really, really hard,” Day said. “You can tell that he is kind of the heartbeat of that whole defense. He’s what makes that defense go. And the big guys up front eat up a lot of blocks and he runs to the ball and makes tackles.”

The challenge Tuesday, Burr-Kirven said, will be to keep up that production against an Ohio State offense, led by quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., that offers diversity the Huskies haven’t seen this season.

“Everyone kind of runs the same stuff in college football now, but it’s rare to see a passing game that’s this dynamic with a run game that’s so good, too,” Burr-Kirven said. “We played (Washington State), and they have a passing attack that’s similar to the yards and production, that kind of stuff, but they run the ball 10 times a game, which is not the case for Ohio State (41 carries per game).”

But he said it won’t change his basic approach, which is to get in a full workout during every game. If he has a secret for making plays — other than intense preparation — it’s his relentlessness.

“I try on every play to run till I’m out of breath,” Burr-Kirven said, “and keep going till the end of the game.”