UConn football shows reasons for optimism in win over lowly Wagner

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Art Thompkins rushed for 91 yards and a score on 17 carries. (Photo: Stephen Dunn/AP)

It wasn’t pretty, but games this early in a long rebuild rarely are.

UConn earned a victory in its first game of the season against Wagner, and although the Huskies only beat the FCS school (which finished 4-7 last year) by three, at home, a win is still a win.

Huskies fans will whine and grumble because, well, that’s what they do–but if you got over the thought that “IT’S WAGNER” long enough to pay attention, there were some big positives to take from this game.

Take the running back tandem of Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins, who combined for 235 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-21 win.

Thompkins, a Toledo transfer who began his college career playing alongside Kareem Hunt, finished with 91 yards on 17 carries (5.4 avg) and a TD. The senior showed plenty of shiftiness, and the speed and toughness that made him a MAC recruit. (OK, yes it’s sad that we’re looking up to MAC schools right now, but that’s not the point).

Mensah, a junior from Worcester, racked up 144 yards on 36 carries (beast) and a score.

The defense, which was the worst in the history of major college football last year, showed improvement, holding Wagner to just 185 yards of offense. Last year, the Huskies gave up an almost-inconceivable 617 yards per game to go along with a record-worst 50.4 points per.

“I’m never going to apologize for winning, I don’t care if we’re supposed to beat somebody 62-10,” head coach Randy Edsall said afterwards. “A win’s a win and for our program, we needed to win, regardless how it was.”

Even though it struggled to pull away, UConn was never really in any danger of losing to Wagner, either. The Seahawks cut the lead to 24-21 after a 12-play, 92-yard drive that ended with 4:29 to go, but the Huskies got a few first downs and ran out the clock on their next possession. They also led by two scores throughout, including 10-0, 17-7 and 24-14.

Sure, UConn’s only win last season came against an FCS opponent (Rhode Island), but that was an ugly 56-49 slugfest that proved foreboding of what was to come for the defense.

This game was a much cleaner, much more business-like performance.

It may have been an unconvincing win over Wagner, but long, arduous rebuilds have to start somewhere. A disastrous first year is out of the way. Game 1 in Year 2 is now in the books, too.

At least it started out with a win.

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