UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and 9 year's for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography
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Special teams could play a key role in the outcome of the Music City Bowl matchup between Kentucky and Clemson.
C.J. Spiller is arguably the most dangerous returner in the country, having already returned four kickoffs for touchdowns this season. And with eight kickoff or punt return TDs, Spiller is one away from a setting a national record. Kentucky All-American Derek Abney is one of the players with whom Spiller is currently tied.
UK special teams coordinator Steve Ortmayer has great respect for Spiller, but he also trusts his kickoff coverage team and kicker Craig McIntosh.
So don't look for the Wildcats to do what several teams did to try and contain Spiller, which is to squib the kick. That's part of the reason Clemson's average starting position for its drives this season was the 38-yard line.
"We're just not willing to give up that 20 yards of field position that other teams have," said Ortmayer, adding that UK will at least start off by kicking the ball down the field as it has all season.
"We've done that with everybody we've played against. We feel like if we've got our normal set of guys, we've got enough speed on that team that we can challenge them," he continued. "He's a speed guy who likes to do this, so he can create some things for himself and then his ability takes over. When he played him when he was a freshman but he didn't scare you like he does now."
Ortmayer also has confidence in McIntosh, despite the cold weather that is forecast for Nashville.
"That kid has come along over the course of the last six weeks, to become a quality kicker. It remains to be seen if he can play in the kind of weather we'll get here," Ortmayer said. "If affects kickoffs tremendously. There's no air in the ball. It's just a cold, hard rock. It won't hang in the air like we need it to and it won't go as far--so we'll need to adjust to those two things.
"We're challenge our guys," he added, "to make sure this is not the 'C.J. Spiller show'."
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ESPN's Jay Bilas knew the Kentucky basketball team was loaded with talent but because of the great lack of experience, he has questions about whether the Wildcats can go as deep into the NCAA Tournament as the Final Four. But after watching the Cats beat North Carolina earlier this month, he started to revise that opinion.
"I think he (Calipari) is striking the right balance of giving them the freedom to make mistakes but holding them accountable," Bilas said. "Some of these things you learn, you learn through experience. When it comes down to the end of the year, are they going to be vulnerable to getting beat by an older team? Yeah, they are--but you knew that going in. But I think Kentucky is going to be better than I thought. They've got a lot of talent and they play really hard. That's one thing that may trump some of the experience issues. And it looks like they're attentive to what the coaching staff wants. They're so certainly not afraid (of big games) and that's a plus. These kids play high-level basketball every summer. I think, generally, an 18-year old kid is better than they were 20 years ago."
And obviously, Bilas is quite impressed with John Wall.
"His explosiveness is off the charts," he told tomleachky.com. "I just haven't seen a guard that young that is, frankly, that good."