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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A day after No. 8 UCLA's pummeling of Arizona State, Ishmael Adams couldn't help himself.
The Bruins cornerback decided to violate coach Jim Mora's rule about moving on from the previous game after 24 hours, and he took one more look at the 62-27 victory.
"I watched the interception again right before I went to sleep," Adams said. "It was something good to go to sleep to."
For the Sun Devils, Adams was an absolute nightmare. His 95-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime began a Bruins avalanche, and Adams abetted it with his 100-yard kick return for another TD early in the third quarter. He was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week on Monday.
"It doesn't surprise me," quarterback Brett Hundley said. "Ishmael is one of the hardest-working players on this team, so when he does stuff like that, it just shows how much he works. To us, that's what he does."
In his junior season, Adams has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the FBS with the ball in his hands.
He leads the Pac-12 in kickoff returns this season, averaging 28.2 yards per play. Add in his punt returns and a second interception return for a touchdown in the season opener at Virginia, and Adams is averaging 26.8 yards per touch, a mark that would be even higher if a punt return for a touchdown against the Cavaliers hadn't been negated by a penalty.
Adams is also a centerpiece in the UCLA secondary, leading the team in passes defended and ranking fifth in tackles. While he lacks the size that is so in vogue to defend bigger receivers, the 5-foot-8 Adams makes up for it with his athleticism, understanding of passing game concepts, and a competitive spirit that linebacker Eric Kendricks termed "that saltiness we need."
Receiver Jordan Payton, who played with Adams in high school, went one step further.
"He is nasty," said Payton, who added that Adams is more "fiery now" than he was at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, California.
"He gets physical, and I think that is his strong suit," Hundley said. "He might not be the tallest corner, but he is big and built to go against taller receivers."
"You want to go against Ishmael, you better come prepared for sure," Payton said.
It was a desire to establish himself on defense that kept Adams from pushing for a larger special teams role until late last season. Payton is glad that Adams is contributing there now, pointing to the tangible benefits for the UCLA offense from his returns.
"It changes the play-calls now," Payton said. "You have a competitive advantage as far as field position is concerned, so you can go into the meat of your offense and run the things you are used to."
But Adams might be less of a factor on special teams against Utah on Saturday. The Utes have allowed the fewest kickoff return yards in the Pac-12 and lead the conference in net punting.
Utah also has its own return specialist dynamo in Kaelin Clay, who has scored on three punt returns and one kickoff return, and is well aware of what a player like Adams can do to change a game.
If Utah decides to keep the ball away from Adams on special teams, the Bruins are confident he can find other ways to contribute.
"He's just a playmaker," Payton said.
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