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UW linemen Jared Hilbers, Jaxson Kirkland stepping up

Washington spent much of this week talking about the season-opening loss to Auburn: The mistakes, the missed opportunities, the frustration.

But in between analyzing what went wrong, the Huskies found some time to discuss what went right. Like the play of left tackle Jared Hilbers and redshirt freshman right guard Jaxson Kirkland, for instance.

“I think they went toe-to-toe with (Auburn) from a physicality standpoint,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “I think we ran the football extremely well and I’m extremely proud of the way those guys played.”

And that gives the Huskies coaches some confidence the offense is going to be OK when they host North Dakota Saturday at Husky Stadium (2 p.m.)

Senior offensive lineman Kaleb McGary said every player on the offensive line made mistakes in the Auburn game, but he also praised the performance of Hilbers and Kirkland.

“I think they did just fine,” McGary said. “I think they held their own.”

Hilbers started in place of preseason All-American Trey Adams, who injured his back in practice the week before the season opener and didn’t make the trip to Atlanta.

The Seattle Times reported on Wednesday that Adams was scheduled to have surgery. Adams also posted a picture from a hospital bed on Wednesday with the location tag for Harborview Medical Center.

Asked about Adams’ status on Thursday, head coach Chris Petersen said he had nothing to say, but he did compliment Hilbers.

“He’s taken a lot of reps for us,” Petersen said of the junior. “I thought he did a solid job in there and I’m anxious to watch his progression as we continue to play. He’s a focused, hardworking kid.”

Hilbers played in five games as a sophomore last season. He played in six games, including the Peach Bowl against Alabama, in 2016.

On Wednesday, Hilbers said his practice week wouldn’t change too much leading up to the game against North Dakota.

“You prepare the same if you’re a two or a one,” he said. “Definitely having a start, you get a little different experience in practice because you understand how it’s going to be in a game.”

Hilbers said he felt prepared to face Auburn because he goes against “some of the best guys in the country” during UW’s practices. His consistency in those practices earned him the start against the Tigers, said offensive line coach Scott Huff.

“He’s a guy that we move around a lot, right and left,” Huff said. “He just did a nice job preparing and we felt like that was the best decision.”

UW’s linemen have built a culture of helping each other develop, Huff said. That means backups like Hilbers and young players like Kirkland are ready to step in when they’re needed.

“(Kirkland) did a good job,” Huff said. “Like everybody, there’s a lot of stuff to improve on but the moment wasn’t too big for him. He went out there, he competed, looked like he was enjoying himself out there and that’s fun to see.”

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