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November 22, 2006

Mark Stoops behind resurgent Arizona 'D'

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You want to talk about difficult jobs? Right after rattlesnake handler and publicist for Mel Gibson ranks Pac-10 defensive coordinator.

The top four offenses in the league rank in the top 25 nationally. Year in and year out, no conference puts a premium on offense quite like the Pac-10.

The league's top unit belongs to Oregon. The Ducks are eighth in the country in total offense because they run it well (10th nationally), pass it well (22nd) and translate that into points (17th).

None of which they could manage particularly well against Arizona on Saturday.

The Wildcats held the Ducks 29 yards below their rushing average, 61 yards below their passing average, and 21.5 points below their scoring average. It all added up to a 37-10 triumph for Arizona, shocking in its thoroughness. It was especially impressive because it came at Oregon, where the Ducks simply don't take on water like this.

"It was a lot of fun. Our guys really played hard and prepared well," said Wildcats defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, the Rivals.com National Coordinator of the Week.

"(Dennis) Dixon and (Jonathan) Stewart are both very good players and their offense has a chance to be very explosive. We wanted to keep them maintained, make them work for every yard, and come up with big plays ourselves."

Arizona made a handful of big plays. A handful plus one, actually. The Wildcats had six takeaways, including four interceptions. They have seven interceptions over their past two games, and they have given up only 14.2 points per game over their past five games.

"We've played solid all year with the exception of the LSU game (a 45-3 drubbing in Baton Rouge)," Stoops said. "We've given up some yardage, but we try to make teams work hard for every yard. And we haven't given up a lot of points.

"We've played BYU, USC, Cal and Oregon. I know they're all pretty highly ranked, and we played them all pretty tough."

You already know the pedigree of Stoops, 39. Older brother Bob is the head coach at Oklahoma, and his boss at Arizona is older brother Mike.

But Mark Stoops has been at this a long time, too, and his defense is improving steadily. It's a big reason the Wildcats are bowl eligible for the first time since 1998.

"We mix it up. We just try to be very sound in what we're doing, not outsmart ourselves," Stoops said. "We want the offense to work and earn yards, that's the big thing,

"We have improved in takeaways. We've stepped it up there, and that can help your offense when it's struggling to create more opportunities."

Stoops said he embraces his tough job in the Pac-10.

"It is amazing, really, the offenses in this league," Stoops said. "It's a lot of fun because it's a big challenge every week. You don't get bored in this league. They (the offenses) are all really well coached and they have really great skill people. We try to get better week, and you have to around here."


USC running back C.J. Gable is Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week after posting 159 all-purpose yards in the Trojans' 23-9 victory over Cal.

Gable rushed for 91 yards on a season-high 19 carries and added a 35-yard reception and a 33-yard kickoff return.

Gable made the most of his opportunity. He has been somewhat lost in the shuffle of a talented backfield behind Chauncey Washington and fellow freshman Emmanuel Moody. But with both of them ailing, Gable was more than able to pick up the slack.

Other freshmen nominated for the Rivals.com top honor were:

USC safety Taylor Mays, who had six tackles and an interception against the Golden Bears and was a big part of a stellar defensive effort.

Auburn defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, who had five solo tackles, one for loss, two fumble recoveries and one pass breakup as the Tigers prevailed in the Iron Bowl.

Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell, who completed 23 of 33 for 217 yards and rushed for 41 yards and two TDs on 10 carries in a 17-7 triumph over Miami.

Tennessee running back LaMarcus Coker had touchdown runs of 87 and 8 yards among his 10 carries for 126 yards as the Vols crushed Vanderbilt 39-10.

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