As it turned out, no problem.
The Cardinals (3-1) got the touchdown in three minutes, then the defensive stop and then the victory, 31-2, at Scheumann Stadium.
“I told the O-line and the skill guys it was do or die,” quarterback Keith Wenning said about the game-winning drive. “It was our last opportunity to score. We had to score. We have to leave it all on the field.”
They did in part because receiver Willie Snead played the game of his life (a career-high 11 catches for a career-high 135 yards) capped by the catch to remember for the next decade— a one-handed 19-yarder in the back corner of the end zone. He got a foot down and then sweated out a review.
“(The South Florida cornerback) was pressing me, I beat him and Keith threw a perfect ball," Snead said. "I got it with my left hand and was able to get a foot down."
“It made up for my dropped touchdown pass earlier.”
Add the last-second 41-39 win at the Big Ten's Indiana last week and it marked the first time in school history Ball State had beaten two BCS conference teams in the same year, let alone back to back. It wrapped up a rugged non-conference run that also included a trip to national power Clemson (a 52-27 loss).
“This was an amazing win,” cornerback Eric Patterson said. “We worked hard for it.”
Patterson's hard work produced the victory clinching interception in the final seconds. South Florida had driven from its own 13-yard line to the Ball State 28-yard line before Patterson ended it.
“They had just run the same play,” he said.” I knew they'd try to run it again. I stepped inside and jumped the route.”
The victory culminated what coach Pete Lembo called a great week of practice that showed no hangover from the Indiana victory.
“Our guys are poised, they're even keeled, they're quiet, they're confident, they're humble and they believe in what we're doing. We have great kids.”
Lembo, too, paused.
“I don't want to disparage our guys, but we don't have one guy on our roster that (South Florida) would consider offering a scholarship. And we beat them. This wasn't luck.”
It's not luck when you don't turn the ball over, only commit five penalties and once again display formidable halftime adjustments. Ball State controlled the second half, and ultimately the game.
"We talk a lot about controlling what we can control, and worrying about ourselves and not getting caught up in the opponent, what league they're from and how big their guys are," Lembo said. "Today it all came together."
Control centered on Wenning, who was 24-for-36 for 244 yards and two touchdowns. On the final drive, he was 5-for-7, including a crucial 6-yard pass to Snead on fourth and two at the Ball State 43-yard line.
South Florida (2-2) lost its second straight game. It was led by quarterback B.J. Daniels who threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 75 yards.
A fierce north wind added an extra challenge to the passing game. South Florida adjusted on its first drive — which went into the wind — with 15 straight running plays. The Bulls drove inside the Ball State 15-yard line before two holding penalties forced them to pass. It was incomplete and they settled for Maikon Bonani's 42-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Ball State countered with Steven Schott's 39-yard field goal to tie the score at 3-3.
Wenning's sharp passing, including a 22-yard toss to Snead, set up Jahwan Edwards' 3-yard TD run to give Ball State a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Daniels tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Lindsey Lamar, but extra point was blocked. Ball State led 10-9.
The Cardinals' strong second-half-opening drive took up more than six minutes while overcoming a pair of holding penalties. They went 75 yards in 15 plays, the last one coming on Wenning's quarterback sneak for a touchdown and a 17-9 lead.
South Florida responded by driving into the red zone before settling for Bonani's 27-yard field goal to make it 17-12.
Ball State's Jamill Smith took charge with a long kickoff return to midfield and a couple of catches, including a 5-yard touchdown reception to make it 24-12 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Daniels' 15-yard touchdown pass cut Ball State's lead to 24-19 at the end of the third quarter.
With South Florida needing to drive 99 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, Daniels delivered by hitting huge third-and-long passes for 21 and 18 yards to get the Bulls within range. His 29-yard touchdown pass to Lamar, plus a 2-point conversion, made it 27-24 with 4:12 left.
Wenning went to work with a series of clutch passes, the last the 19-yard TD toss to Snead with 1:02 left to give Ball State a 31-27 lead.
Patterson clinched it with his interception.