Whether Overnighting or Not, Kirkland Says UW's Next Move is a Gut Check

The Husky offensive tackle finds motivation in reversing his team's season-opening adversity.
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Picture Jaxson Kirkland dressed in pajamas, robe and slippers, wandering through the lower reaches of Husky Stadium, flashlight in hand, moving from the locker room to the coaches' offices, looking for answers.

Don James did something like this in 1975, when, as the new University of Washington football coach trying to launch his career, he lost three of his first five games. That included a most humbling 52-0 loss to Alabama and one of the game's coaching giants, Bear Bryant.

People remember running into James late at night in the Tubby Graves building, where his office was located not far from the stadium, and watching him head into the restroom in his sleeping attire with a toothbrush in hand.

His suburban Kirkland home was maybe 10 miles away, but James had to push himself to get things going and do something symbolic. So he stayed in his football setting at all hours until he got things right. 

Jaxson Kirkland's offhand comment on Tuesday at the UW might have been just that, something figurative to try and get himself and his teammates going after 0-2 start that has disappointed everyone. 

"I'm going to keep going the extra step," Kirkland said, his voice never lowering an octave during a 10-minute media session. "If that means I have to live in this facility and watch film this whole time, or keep getting extra work on the field when practice is done, I'll do it. I'm trying to do everything I can to elevate the offensive-line play and my play."

Kirkland has a lot at stake with an NFL career that extends past Husky wins and losses, and the Michigan game did nothing to advance his draft standing. He got beat notably by Wolverines edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who is projected as a first-rounder, for a sack, the first one he's permitted in his college career. 

Rather than hang his head over that personal setback, the always motivated 6-foot-7, 315-pound junior from Vancouver, Washington, has redirected his energy to getting things turned around. Plain and simple, it's gut-check time.

"Part of this adversity excites me because it's where you find out who the real people are and the best players will step up," Kirkland said. "Coach [Jimmy] Lake said, 'Who wants to get in the back alley with me?' All of us are down to fighting and crawling and getting after people."

While fans loudly clamor for the Huskies to fire offensive coordinator John Donovan and change the offensive scheme, the reality is wholesale change can't be done midstream during a season. It's far more complicated and involved than that. Tweaks and adjustments, yes, but you can't introduce a new attack.

What it comes down to is players have been getting beat up front and they need to reach down deep to win the battles in the trenches again. As veteran players, they've done it before. 

"It's not like we can change the whole playbook in one week," Kirkland reminded. "We've grooved all this in in how many months leading up to this season? If you watch the tape, it's we're just not executing the way we should be. That's really the main issue." 

Kirkland should be advised that pillows and blankets are in the closet, toothbrushes and tooth paste in the bottom drawer. Don't forget to set your alarm 10 a.m. to got to practice. Don James would approve of this.

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