Steve Spurrier might be seeing flashbacks of Darrius Sims as the coach is blowing out candles on his 99th birthday.
"I'll never get over giving up two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Vanderbilt," the South Carolina coach said this week. "That's embarrassing to me as a head coach."
Last week against the Commodores, Spurrier's team gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns to Sims, who tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record for most kickoff returns for scores in a game.
"Darrius didn't get touched on either of those returns," first-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. "He did a fantastic job and we just need to continue that momentum through the season."
That momentum is making its way to Commonwealth Stadium this weekend and the Cats (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) are doing what they can to halt it.
"He's a very good player," UK Coach Mark Stoops said of Sims, the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. "Good return, good scheme. So we'll have our hands full."
Sims, fourth nationally averaging 36.5 yards a return and the only returner with more than one touchdown on a return, definitely has Kentucky's attention as it prepares for Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2).
Members of Kentucky's special teams unit said they learned a lot by watching South Carolina struggle with the speedy sophomore from Memphis who returned the opening kickoff 91 yards and then a second one for 100 yards in the second half.
"It was some busted coverages, guys running outside their lanes and (not) really flying after the ball," UK's J.D. Harmon said. "That's one thing we're harping on is getting as many hands to the ball as we can and making sure we keep our lanes and keep the ball contained."
More than anything, the group has spent the bye week harping on fundamentals, special teams coach Craig Naivar said.
They had a few breakdowns versus Florida two weeks ago, and the Gators got 104 yards on their four kickoff returns.
Opponents are averaging 24.9 yards a return against the Cats this season, which is 114th out of 128 teams nationally.
"We did not excel in some fundamental things at Florida in kickoff coverage and they made us pay for it, and if we have those same problems again, then (Vanderbilt) will make us pay for it," Naivar said.
Naivar said his special teams unit has embraced the chance to try to contain Sims.
"Our guys are excited about the challenge; they've done a good job," he said. "Brings some excitement to us getting a chance to defend a guy like that."
Harmon said the special teams group, which Stoops said has some things to clean up, wants to prove itself: "We want them to know we're coming at them full speed, real physical and letting guys know that we're coming and we want to keep the ball inside the 20."
Kentucky return team playing it safe
Kentucky has played it relatively safe this season on kickoff returns, fielding just three for 75 total yards. Only two other teams have fielded fewer this season.
But their 25-yard per-return average is No. 25 in the nation, and Stoops seems comfortable playing the field position game.
Naivar said they make decisions on when to return kicks based on who they are facing that week.
"We look at video during the week as far as what that kicker can or can't do," he said. "We give parameters on when we catch the ball or where we catch the ball."
For instance, in the Florida game, the mandate was if the ball gets back on the letters in the end zone, UK wanted to hold the ball.
There were several times, though, that it was clear Harmon and Stanley "Boom" Williams wanted to give it a go but didn't.
"I felt like a couple times that I could have brought it out," Williams said. "And one time that J.D. had it, he felt like he could have brought it out. But we just wanted to be safe in all those situations. We just wanted to wait for the right time to bring it out of the end zone."
After Kentucky, which hasn't returned a kickoff for a TD since 2009, looked at the Florida tape, there was at least one time that perhaps the returner should've taken the ball and run with it despite the parameters.
"I can think of one in particular in the Florida game, where we should've come out because there wasn't a good hang time on that kick," said Naivar, noting that it was a rare mistake by the Gators' kicker.
Williams admits that he gets a little antsy to take it and go. His offensive production often hinges on a big special teams play.
"Once I finally did get the chance, I was one tackle away from breaking away," the freshman said. "Our kickoff return team, they're great and they block as well, too. That's really where I started to get going. I wanted to make the most of my opportunities."