Running back Darren McFadden actually had an excuse to laugh with cornerback Jerell Norton and joke with reporters Saturday afternoon.
And for the first time this season, the Razorbacks had the chance to sing the school fight song and feel good about themselves following a Southeastern Conference game.
It was about time.
Arkansas earned its first SEC win in nearly 11 months Saturday, putting together a dominant performance both offensively and defensively to cruise to a 44-8 win over Ole Miss in front of an announced crowd of 52,671 in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"It's a new season," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "And the season starts in Oxford."
The mood in Arkansas' locker room was noticeably more relaxed and light-hearted than what it had been following three heartbreaking losses to Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn.
This time, the Razorbacks (4-3, 1-3 SEC) didn't need to worry about whether they could get a big defensive stop to pull out a victory. It never got that close against struggling Ole Miss (2-6, 0-5).
Quarterback Casey Dick completed his first seven passes, running back Felix Jones broke a pair of early touchdowns and the Razorbacks jumped out to a 21-0 lead 56 seconds into the second quarter.
"It always gives you confidence (when) you get points up there early and put the defense on their heels. It was really good," Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said. "It was a breath of fresh air to get ahead that quick that early."
Nutt vowed early last week that the offense would be much more creative following its sluggish showing in last Saturday's 9-7 loss to No. 18 Auburn. But it wasn't necessarily creative as much as it was effective Saturday afternoon.
Arkansas' offense scored on its first three possessions, and before Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron knew what was happening, the Razorbacks were off to their first SEC win since beating Mississippi State 28-14 on Nov. 18, 2006.
Arkansas had lost five consecutive conference games dating back to last season before Saturday.
"It's awesome. Everybody is in (the locker room) having a good time, joking around," said Dick, who completed 11-of-17 passes for 96 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. "That's the way it should be."
For once, everything seemed to go right for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas converted 10 of 15 third downs, and McFadden earned his first 100-yard rushing game in three meetings with Ole Miss. He gained 110 yards to go along with Jones' 101 yards and two touchdowns.
"This is our first SEC victory and it means a whole lot to us," McFadden said. "It's the first one and it means even more because it's on the road."
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks defense kept the pressure on Ole Miss quarterback Seth Adams and forced him into throwing four interceptions before getting benched toward the end of the third quarter.
Backup Brent Schaeffer came in for the Rebels, but he wasn't much of a boost. Ole Miss, one of the SEC's top passing offenses, completed only 14-of-34 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown.
"I give a lot credit to the (defensive) line because they did their job hands-down on the pass rush," said Arkansas cornerback Matterral Richardson, who caught two of Adams' interceptions. "We just wanted to return the favor and just make the best of the opportunities."
Arkansas' defense accepted much of the blame for the three close SEC losses earlier this season. But the unit came up big Saturday by recording five sacks and holding Ole Miss to just 5-of-14 on third-down conversions.
As a result, the Razorbacks came six minutes and 26 seconds away from earning their first shutout this season. But by the time Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace caught a 37-yard touchdown catch, most of the home crowd had already left the stadium.
By then, it didn't matter.
Arkansas turned in an overall performance reminiscent of last year's meeting with Ole Miss in Fayetteville. In that game, the Hogs jumped on the Rebels early and never let up during the 38-3 win in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"This team needed (this win) more than anything, just for the spirit and the frame of mind and the soul," Herring said. "It's great medicine."
Dominant In Oxford
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