Today they should because the game was not as close as the score would indicate. Clemson's highly-touted defense gave up 409 yards of total offense to Kentucky. Quarterback Andre Woodson, the bowl's MVP, threw for 299 yards and three scores against a Clemson defense that had allowed just six scoring passes all season.
"I guess they know now why everybody in the Southeastern Conference thinks he is good," receiver Dicky Lyons, who had a 24-yard touchdown catch, said.
Woodson also threw a 70-yard scoring bomb to DeMoreo Ford -- a player known for running short routes -- and a 51-yard pass to Steve Johnson.
Even punter Tim Masthay had a 10-yard completion on a fake punt from the UK 19 in the second quarter with Kentucky leading 7-6.
"Coach (Rich) Brooks might be aging, but he still has some tricks," Kentucky tight end Jacob Tamme said.
No Clemson running game
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden tricked himself and should have been UK's defensive MVP. The Tigers came into the game with a potent one-two running punch in James Davis and C.J. Spiller to face the SEC's worst run defense. But rather than let the two backs have the ball, he limited them to 13 carries for 77 yards.
Spiller, who had six touchdown plays of 50 or more yards this season, got only five carries.
"I don't think we are going to complain about not having to tackle him more," Kentucky linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had 12 tackles, said.
Bowden tried to insist that the score dictated his abandoning the running game. However, the two had only five carries between them in the first half.
Maybe Kentucky's hard-hitting defense intimidated Bowden. Two plays in the third quarter when UK was protecting a 14-6 lead could have done it. First, linebacker Braxton Kelley decked Clemson receiver Chansi Stuckey to force an incompletion. On the next play, Woodyard sacked Clemson quarterback Will Proctor and forced a fumble UK recovered. Six plays later Woodson threw his scoring pass to Lyons for a 21-6 lead and for all practical purposes the Tigers were done.
Woodyard said he told Kelley before the game to play like they did together at LaGrange, Ga. "We wanted to be hostile, agile, mobile and Granger-style. We made big plays. I got hyped just watching Braxton's big hit and wanted to make one of my own," Woodyard said.
Kelley thinks the players may have contributed to Brooks' aggressive play against Clemson. He says Woodyard went to defensive coordinator Mike Archer several times to tell him to keep blitzing even after Clemson made big plays.
"I really think we may have loosened coach Brooks up. He saw how much we wanted this win and that we were going to do what it took to get the win," Kelley said.
Brooks was emotional after the game. He was soaked with the traditional ice-water bath from his jubilant players, but his heart was overflowing with warmth for those players.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team. It's almost beyond me being able to explain. I am not a very bright guy, so it takes more words than I can explain about what they have accomplished."
Kentucky has not had a team win eight games -- or a bowl game -- in 22 years and it is the second most wins for a Kentucky team in 29 years. UK also won five of its last six games, a mark that had not been accomplished since the 1977 team won its last nine games.
"To me, it is a very significant win," Brooks said.
It was because now expectations can already start building for next season. Brooks has a contract extension, UK returns a veteran team and fan enthusiasm is at a peak.
"Let's already squeeze the noose," Brooks said. "Expectations will be high, but let's enjoy this season."
Nothing wrong with that, but his players know beating Clemson was something special.
"This starts next year," McClinton said. "Before today, we knew we had a good team. Now we see we can have a great team. It's just up to us to make sure that happens but after today, nobody should doubt us."