Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Ben Burr-Kirven is having one hell of a senior year.
He’s third in the nation with 165 tackles, with 85 solo takedowns. He snagged a pair of interceptions and notched a career-high eight passes defended. The Pac-12 named him the conference’s Football Scholar Athlete of the year, and he grabbed First Team All-America honors from the AP and ESPN. And now, he’s about to play in his first Rose Bowl.
The way he sees it is pretty grounded for a guy with all those accolades, though.
“It starts with the scheme,” Burr-Kirven said at a Rose Bowl media event in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday. “It’s been a special year, but I think it just comes down to execution. We know what we need to do and we know the plays we’ve gotta make…At the end of the day, I’m just trying to do my job.”
If his job is being a nigh-unstoppable force for the Huskies’ defense, then Burr-Kirven would certainly appear to have done it well. All season long, the Menlo Park, California native has been a terror for opposing offenses to plan for. Wherever the ball goes, Burr-Kirven is never far behind – even if he’s making plays you wouldn’t see from most linebackers.
“It gets annoying sometimes,” Washington defensive back JoJo McIntosh said with a smile. “He’s making tackles and I’m like right there, about to make it. But you know, we need that. We got guys that are always hungry and flying everywhere and Ben is just at the forefront of that.”
When you watch tape of Burr-Kirven, it’s hard not to be reminded of elite NFL linebackers like Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly. He shares their keen ability to sniff out plays at lightning speed, and their disciplined play. When Burr-Kirven gets his hands on the ball-carrier, it’s almost always game over.
When Huskies players are asked about their defense, Burr-Kirven’s name almost always comes up. He was the first name mentioned by defensive lineman Greg Gaines when talking about resilience and leadership, and defensive back Jordan Miller praised his motor and speed. But it’s not just his teammates who lay on the praise.
“No. 25, he is an absolute beast,” Ohio State center Michael Jordan said. “I look forward to playing against him because whenever you get a guy like that, you kind of get up for it.”
Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ryan Day went even further, calling Burr-Kirven “the heartbeat” of Washington’s defense. On a team loaded with future NFL talents like Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp, that his opponents recognize Burr-Kirven as such a force speaks volumes about his impact on the game.
In a way it seems fitting that Burr-Kirven, an elite linebacker, is ending his college career against one of the country’s truly elite offenses in Ohio State. For his part, the senior is looking forward to it. He’s also glad to have the chance to remind the country that the Pac-12 isn’t the pushover it’s often made out to be.
“You go out there and play soft, you’re going to lose the football game,” Burr-Kirven said. “So as far as an opportunity to go out there and show that the Pac-12, we play good football because a lot of people don’t think we do – to play against such a great program like Ohio State, so storied – it’ll be a great game.”