FOXBOROUGH — While the result on the field sent the crowd home disappointed, the homecoming crowd likely sent the University of Massachusetts athletic department home relieved as the listed attendance of 20,571 took a huge step to helping the Minutemen avoid NCAA probation.
UMass needs to average 7,839 fans over the last two home games to finish the season with an average attendance of at least 15,000 fans, the NCAA’s minimum threshold.
The attendance was the second largest in UMass’ two seasons in the Bowl Subdivision.
KICKOFF RETURN — UMass sophomore Khary Bailey-Smith returned the game’s opening kickoff for a 90-yard touchdown. It was the program’s first kickoff return for a TD since Jesse Julmiste brought back a 90-yard return against Central Connecticut on Oct. 8, 2011.
Standing on the No. 10 that marked the yard line when he fielded the ball, Bailey-Smith shed one defender that got a hand on him at the UMass 36, stiff-armed WMU’s Leo Alba at the Bronco 44 and sprinted the rest of the way untouched.
KICKING COMPETITION — UMass coach Charley Molnar said Blake Lucas and Brendon Levengood would resume competition for the team’s field goals and extra points this week. Lucas continued to struggle Saturday when he missed two field goals.
“It would be easy to say that Brendon Levengood is the kicker next week given the emotions, but we will go back and look at those guys,” Molnar said. “We have had lots of competition over the last several weeks and at the end, Blake keeps coming through ahead of the competition. Sometimes in a game, guys perform differently than they do in practice. We’ll talk about it and evaluate it as we go on.”
UMass senior captain Rob Blanchflower said the team wasn’t blaming its kicker.
“A guy like Blake, I don’t know what happened there. He hits them all the time in practice,” Blanchflower said. “We love Blake. We trust him. It was an extremely windy day going from right to left. You can’t put all the blame on a guy like that in these conditions. We’ll hug him up.”
NOTES — The touchdowns for Lorenzo Woodley and Jamal Wilson were each the first of their careers. ... Western Michigan failed at a fake punt and fake field goal. ... Mike Wegzyn’s only pass attempt in the game was a 26-yard completion to Blanchflower. ... Western Michigan’s win leaves just five winless teams in the FBS, including Georgia State, which is in transition.