LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The last two years have been sweet for coach John Robinson at UNLV. Jason Thomas could make the next two years even better.
Thomas helped Robinson turn around a once hapless UNLV program in just Robinson's second year in this gambling city, finishing the season off Thursday night with three touchdown passes in a 31-14 win over Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl.
It was a near flawless performance for the sophomore quarterback, who only figures to improve as he gets more experience.
"Jason Thomas is on his way to being one of the great players," Robinson said.
Thomas passed only 17 times, but completed 12, including a 54-yard strike in the third quarter that put UNLV ahead for good in its hometown bowl. He was calm and efficient in running an offense that scored four touchdowns against a defense that hadn't allowed any in its two previous games.
It was almost enough to make Arkansas coach Houston Nutt wish his team hadn't scheduled UNLV for its opening game next year.
"We can't wait to continue it next year, and we are looking forward to bigger and better things," Thomas said. "This is just the beginning for us."
UNLV dominated the second half, holding Arkansas (6-6) scoreless to win for the fourth straight game and finish the season 8-5.
Thomas threw only six passes in the second half, but one of them was the long touchdown pass that put UNLV ahead for good. He didn't need to throw much, since UNLV's speedy running backs were ripping off chunks of yardage through holes in the Arkansas defense.
Jeremi Rudolph ran for 92 yards, and Kevin Brown rushed for 78 and a touchdown. UNLV had 259 yards rushing.
"They took over the second half," Arkansas quarterback Robby Hampton said. They had dangerous backs and created big holes in our line."
Fans who didn't go near the UNLV stadium when the team was in the midst of a 16-game losing streak tore down a goalpost as UNLV celebrated its turnaround in two seasons under Robinson.
"I'm not the guy who did this," Robinson said, pointing to his players. "It's them."
In particular, it was Thomas, the sophomore transfer from Southern Cal, Robinson's former school. Thomas threw two touchdown passes to Nate Turner in the first half to keep UNLV in the game before the Rebels took over in the second half.
"Me and JT (Thomas) had been talking about this all week," Turner said. "We tried to hit them deep, and fortunately we got some deep pass plays off."
It was the first bowl appearance for UNLV since it won the same bowl in 1994, and the first for Robinson since USC beat Northwestern five years ago in the Rose Bowl.
Unlike the Rose Bowl, the 9-year-old Las Vegas Bowl barely registers in the postseason picture. But to a team that went 0-11 the year before Robinson took over, beating Arkansas was reason enough to celebrate.
"We couldn't get any momentum," Nutt said. "They hit the home run ball, and that put us behind the 8-ball."
UNLV's defense allowed a touchdown on the opening drive and another in the second quarter, but shut out the Razorbacks in the second half. Hampton threw two first-half touchdown passes for Arkansas, but was largely ineffective in the second half.
The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, and Arkansas had a chance to take the lead on its first possession of the second half when UNLV muffed a punt snap and Arkansas took over on the Rebels 30.
UNLV's defense stiffened, however, and Arkansas missed a 29-yard field goal with 9:33 left in the third quarter. The Razorbacks never threatened again.
A crowd of 25,868 -- a record for the ninth-year bowl -- showed up to cheer a hometown team that Robinson took from 0-11 two years ago to 3-8 in his first year. UNLV was 4-5 at one point this season, but won its last four games.
Arkansas, also 4-5 before finishing with two wins over ranked opponents, was happy to get into a bowl. But the estimated 4,000 fans who traveled with the team to Las Vegas could only watch in stunned silence in the second half.
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