UCLA turns Arizona State trip into Valley of the Stun

UCLA turns Arizona State trip into Valley of the Stun
UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

There was a collective exhale that could be heard from UCLA fans from the desert to the sea.

Quarterback Brett Hundley looked fine. Ishmael Adams was finally able to catch his breath. The No. 11 Bruins looked more like the team everyone was expecting this season in their Pac-12 opener.


All of which came packaged in a 62-27 victory over No. 15 Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday.

By the time UCLA (4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12) finished dismantling Arizona State (3-1, 1-1) in the 90-degree heat, there were far fewer questions about a team that totes hefty expectations.

Important games are ahead for the Bruins. But this was a big hurdle, coming on the road against the defending Pac-12 South champions.

The Bruins prepared for the moment not knowing whether their quarterback would play. Uncertainty surrounded Hundley, who had injured his left elbow against Texas on Sept. 13.

UCLA Coach Jim Mora said he wanted to see how Hundley responded in practice after being cleared to play.

"I felt OK with it," Mora said.

The Sun Devils weren't.

The Bruins spotted Arizona State a 17-6 lead, then scored 28 consecutive points in a big-play display that had to impress the national television audience.

"I think that game kind of showed we have some grit to us," Mora said. "I have been on some teams that would have folded."

Eldridge Massington turned a short pass into an 80-yard touchdown play to cut the deficit to 17-13. The Bruins never let up.

Hundley completed 18 of 23 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan Payton had five catches for 151 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown catch.

More important, Hundley displayed that hippy-hippy shake as a runner that gives opposing defensive coordinators night terrors.

"The first series, Brett seemed tight to me," Mora said. "Then he just relaxed and played fearless."

Hundley tried to be careful, getting out of bounds when he could and hitting the turf a few times. But he remained a reckless runner. Hundley hurdled one would-be tackler on a six-yard gain in the first half.


He was just getting started.

Potential tacklers were left waving at air on his 21-yard run to the three-yard line later in the half. He then danced and spun his way for 22 yards to the one in the third quarter.

Both drives ended in touchdowns.

Hundley finished with 72 yards rushing and scored the Bruins' coup de grace with a one-yard run with 4:29 left.

"We've seen Brett do some amazing things," receiver Thomas Duarte said. "I just think that's another one of his games. Just to see him out there, doing his thing, jumping over guys, taking hits, that inspires the team."

UCLA finished with 580 yards. Arizona State had 626 yards but could not keep pace on the scoreboard, not with quarterback Taylor Kelly sidelined with a foot injury.

Mike Bercovici subbed for Kelly and had some quality moments. He completed 42 of 68 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns. He also had two passes intercepted.

Going into this game, the Sun Devils had only one turnover this season, a fumble. They gave the ball away four times Thursday, leading to 17 UCLA points.

The Bruins didn't need the help. UCLA had eight plays of 40 or more yards, four of which went for touchdowns. Adams had three of the big plays.

"I don't know if there's a better guy to have the ball in his hands," Mora said.

Adams provided the backbreaker with Arizona State driving for a tying or go-ahead score late in the first half. He picked off a pass and went 95 yards for a touchdown. Instead of trailing, the Bruins had a 27-17 halftime lead.

By the time Adams' evening was done, he had to feel like he'd been at the Olympic Trials. After Arizona State cut the lead to 34-20 in the third quarter, he fielded a kickoff in the end zone and left the Arizona State coverage team choking on his vapor trail. Officially, it was a 100-yard return that left Adams on his back, breathing heavily.

UCLA fans, meanwhile, could breathe easier.

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter: @cfosterlatimes