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Where UW’s Ben Burr-Kirven is, tackles usually follow — like his 20 vs. Arizona State

A mere 6 feet, 221 pounds — hardly prototypical for a middle linebacker, but about 20 pounds bigger than when he arrived as an unheralded freshman — BBK is becoming a BMOC.

He is undersized and probably still underappreciated, but that latter distinction is changing rapidly.

Ben Burr-Kirven, the Huskies’ hyphenated and hyperkinetic senior linebacker, is making himself un-ignorable — even without the telltale flowing hair and blond beard that made him stand out last season.

On Saturday, in Washington’s 27-20 victory over Arizona State at Husky Stadium, he was unrelenting.

In other words, business as usual. Where Burr-Kirven is, tackles follow. A mere 6 feet, 221 pounds — hardly prototypical for a middle linebacker, but about 20 pounds bigger than when he arrived as an unheralded freshman — BBK is becoming a BMOC.

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Burr-Kirven had 20 tackles (14 solo) in another whirling-dervish of an outing, the most by a Husky defender since John Fiala had 22 on Sept. 7, 1996 — against Arizona State in Tempe.

Two of his hits forced fumbles, and one of those fumbles was scooped up by none other than BBK. That stifled a drive toward a potential tying touchdown by Arizona State late in the third quarter, and helped thwart the Sun Devils’ dreams of damaging another Husky season.

“They’d had a couple of fumbles, the one on the goal line they discounted, and another one later in the game they recovered, and one more they recovered,’’ Burr-Kirven said afterward.

“It was kind of frustrating. We were saying on the sideline, we’re going to get one eventually. I just saw his back turned to me (running back Trelon Smith). I saw a good shot, and got a good hit on him from behind, and as soon as I hit him, I saw the ball. I said, ‘Oh, that’s mine, I’m going to take that.’ ”

Burr-Kirven has been a wonder this season. Last week, in UW’s 21-7 win over Utah, he had 11 tackles — his season average entering Saturday’s game — to highlight a stifling Husky defense. He had 13 in the season opener against Auburn.

This game was havoc writ even larger. When defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake was told after the game of Burr-Kirven’s tackles total, he was both incredulous and borderline giddy.

“Is that what he had? Unbelievable. Unbelievable,’’ Lake said. “I said it last week, he plays violent, he plays at one speed, he practices the same way, he diagnoses plays so quickly.

“Twenty tackles? That is unreal. That is awesome. He has to be leading the country. Hey, my vote is for him for Pac-12 player of the week again. Let’s do it back to back.”

Burr-Kirven was part of the same 2014 recruiting class as Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Trey Adams, but slipped in comparatively quietly. At first, anyway. A two-way star at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton, Calif., (running back and linebacker) he didn’t get a sniff from nearby Stanford, where his older brother, Carter, graduated last year.

The Huskies, however, saw something in Burr-Kirven that belied his small stature — an unrelenting motor, a sharp aptitude for the X’s and O’s, and an uncanny nose for the ball. He won their outstanding special-teams award as a true freshman, became a key linebacker reserve as a sophomore, then broke out last year with a team-leading 84 tackles and second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Burr-Kirven started the opener against Rutgers when Azeem Victor was suspended, and led the Huskies with 11 tackles in the victory. He’s rarely been off the field since. In a defensive system that likes to rotate linebackers, Burr-Kirven has made himself a fixture.

This game was tense the entire way, with Arizona State never quite letting the Huskies pull comfortably away, despite their threatening to do so several times. The Sun Devils got an early touchdown off an interception on Washington’s first offensive play — some ill-advised trickery — and then grinded out a touchdown late on a 55-yard drive that put them behind by seven points with 4:16 left.

Arizona State never got the ball back despite making it a bit too close for comfort. But the rugged nature of the game — the Sun Devils ran the ball far more than anticipated — will be good for the Huskies, Burr-Kirven believes.

“I think these games are the best game for you in the long run,’’ he said. “It teaches you a lot about what it takes. At the end of the season, every game you play, if you get to the Pac-12 championship or whatever, a bowl game, and you’re playing a real good team, this is the kind of game you have to expect.

“Throughout the rest of the Pac-12, we’re going to have these kind of games. And especially for the young guys, who might not have been in many games like this, it’s good to get a feel for what it takes and the kind of execution it takes.”

Burr-Kirven, who gave a master’s course in execution, was asked if it felt like he had 20 tackles.

“I had 20? It felt like a lot,’’ he said. “We were out there all day long. It was a grinder.”

And these days, few players in the country are grinding harder, or better, than Ben Burr-Kirven.

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