For UConn football, forward is forward and a win's a win

East Hartford — OK. Go ahead with the comedy routine. They beat Wagner. Wagner! Wagner?

Is that Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman), Honus Wagner (the shortstop) or Billy Wagner (the closer)?

Wagner. Of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the erstwhile Division I-AA, the kind of school UConn really ought to eat for lunch. 

But then, this is the UConn that lost its final nine games of 2018. The UConn that allowed the entire Pacific Coast Highway in yardage. The UConn football program forsaken by its own administration and Board of Trustees in the offseason, future fodder for independent scheduling with no bowl tie-in and no television contract. 

And so maybe we can all find some room to appreciate UConn’s 24-21 win over Lindsay/Honus/Billy at Rentschler Field on Thursday night, a victory whose significance lies in the utter simplicity of this: It beats the alternative. The all-too-familiar alternative.

“I’m never going to apologize for winning,” an animated UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “I don’t care if we’re supposed to beat somebody 62-10. Like somebody thought we should (Edsall alluded to a state columnist). I’ll take a win any day of the week. A win’s a win. For our program, we needed to win. Regardless of how it was. And again, when you take a look at where we were and (how) you saw them fight, I think that can go a long way. I really do.”

UConn’s reality: This program is a long way from dominating anybody. The best evidence is its recent history against FCS schools: 

2018: allowed 49 points to Rhode Island, but won 56-49. 

2017: trailed Holy Cross 20-7 at halftime, before winning 27-20. 

2016: needed Bobby Puyol’s field goal with 11 seconds left to beat Maine 24-21. 

2015: beat Villanova by five. 

2014: beat Stony Brook by three. 

2013: Lost to Towson by 15. 

So based on that, the 24-21 win over Wagner fits where the Huskies are right now. But again: It beats the alternative. And gives the coaches and kids more reasons to be excited about playing Illinois next week. 

The most positive part of the night: The offense’s responses to Wagner’s first two touchdowns of the game. Wagner’s Myron Morris returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown and the Huskies went 63 yards in seven plays and scored. Wagner scored again on a big play — Dymitri McKenzie’s 55-yard touchdown run — and UConn answered with 65 yards in eight plays. Touchdown. 

Edsall alluded to some self-inflicted wounds, but also acknowledged his team’s poise when circumstances became dicey. 

“I thought (the quick-response scores) were huge at that time. It got the momentum back for us,” Edsall said. “That’s a positive you take.” 

Defensively, the unit with no seniors pitched a shutout in the first half. Holes emerged in the second half. Expected. But still … the defense was responsible for 14 points all night.  

“Ultimately it goes to the players,” Edsall said. “You all know what they went through last year. They don’t want that to happen this year. They’ve bought into Lou (new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos) and his enthusiasm. They’ve picked up the scheme and they can play fast. They weren’t perfect but they were flying around.” 

This was a night when, again, we learned all over again the Huskies are a long way from the Fiesta Bowl they participated in nine years ago. There is fan apathy (announced crowd of 19,648) and a bunch of student frauds who like to complain on Twitter more than they like to hang around until the game ends. The student section was empty during a three-point game in the fourth quarter. 

But we digress.

The point of the night: If we learned nothing else from the tortoise and the hare, we know this much: forward is forward. All progress is progress. The Huskies may move glacially. But they moved Thursday night. Go ahead and mock the opponent. But 1-0 sure beats 0-1. Especially when you snap a nine-game losing streak. 

So bring on Illinois next week to play the undefeated Huskies. 

Forward is forward. 

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

 

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