UCLA’s Ishmael Adams has come up big on returns

UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams carries the ball during the Bruins' win over Arizona State on Thursday.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams was channel-surfing Sunday night, hoping to find some football to watch.

He came across a replay of Thursday’s game between the Bruins and Arizona State. He was in violation of Coach Jim Mora’s 24-hour rule, when players are supposed to forget about a game after one day. This, though, was too good a bedtime story to ignore.

Adams watched as he intercepted a pass, then raced 95 yards for a touchdown. He also returned a kickoff for 100 yards in that game.

“I had put that game to bed that night, enjoyed it with my teammates, but I couldn’t resist watching it again,” Adams said. “I missed the kickoff return. I fell asleep.”

Never mind. He had seen the crucial play.

There are key moments in any championship season. This may have been one.


Arizona State was driving for a possible go-head touchdown when Adams snagged a pass and took off. It gave the Bruins a 27-17 halftime lead. When Brett Hundley connected with Jordan Payton on an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half, the 62-27 route was on.

“Ish’s interception freed us up a lot,” Payton said. “It gave us some breathing room. We knew from there we were going to take off on them.”

It’s what Adams has done this season. He has three touchdowns, two on interception returns and one on a kickoff return. He also returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown against Virginia, only to have it wiped out because of a penalty.

The interception return against Arizona State allowed the Bruins to put last year’s Pac-12 South champions in the rearview mirror.

“The air [in the stadium] got quiet, the wind stopped blowing as hard and I could hear my teammates even more,” Adams said. He said Sun Devils fans “couldn’t even boo.”

Adams has that effect.

UCLA coaches didn’t let him return kicks until late in the 2013 season, not wanting to put a starting defensive back at risk. But his skills and instincts with the ball in his hands were too good to ignore. He demonstrated that again with his interception against Arizona State.

Adams had been called for holding earlier in the drive, “so I felt like I needed to make a play.” He picked off the pass and immediately shifted into return mode. He sprinted to his right, then cut back when he saw linemen heading in that direction.

“I saw the flow of the elephants and saw a wall my guys naturally made,” Adams said. “They met me down in the end zone. I always remember those returns that there are a lot of linemen out there. It’s elephants on parade.”

Many happy returns

Adams scored again in the third quarter after the Sun Devils had cut the lead to 34-20. He took the kickoff five yards deep and sprinted, untouched for a touchdown.

“That would be something special,” Adams said. “It’s early in the season. I’ll get more opportunities. The best is yet to come.”

Hundley update

What’s the best indicator that Hundley is well down the road to recovery from his elbow injury? He was allowed to talk with the media Monday.

Hundley wore a brace on his left elbow during the game at Arizona State after suffering an injury against Texas on Sept. 13. It didn’t seem to hamper him. He finished with 355 yards passing and 72 rushing.

“Once the game started I felt comfortable,” Hundley said. “I can never change my game. It goes back to how I play football, running around, throwing the ball, making plays.

Oregon game

UCLA’s game against second-ranked Oregon on Oct. 11 will kick off at 12:30 p.m. PDT and be televised on Channel 11.