With just over four minutes remaining in Saturday's game against South Florida at Schuemann Stadium, Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning jogged out onto the field with a monumental task at hand.
The Cardinals trailed 27-24 after the Bulls had rallied and scored to seize the momentum and seemingly prepare the 16,000-plus Ball State fans home disappointed.
"Keith is incredibly poised and even-keeled,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “He's quietly confident and we have been able to put more and more responsibility on his shoulders.”
All Wenning had on his shoulders late Saturday afternoon was to guide the offense to a game-winning score. He did just that in completing five of seven passes on the Cardinals' final drive and threw a pin-point pass into the back corner of the end zone to receiver Willie Snead, who made a magnificent leaping catch to put Ball State ahead 31-27.
As spectacular as Wenning was on that final drive, that is also how good he performed all afternoon, and for that superb play, the junior was named Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week.
“I just really like the way that he is leading our offense right now,” Lembo said. “He's also executing at a pretty high level.”
The win over South Florida was the Cardinals' second consecutive victory over a team from a BCS league. Ball State (3-1) knocked off Indiana a week earlier and Wenning again led a final minute drive in the victory as well.
“Keith is very intelligent, but he is also very conscientious,” Lembo said. “The game continues to slow down for him. You are seeing a combination of good decision making, but also the physical ability to make the plays that he needs to make.”
In the two most recent wins, Wenning has completed 62.5 percent (50 of 80) of his passes and been part of seven touchdowns (five passing, one running and one reception), all without an interception.
“Some of that (success) goes back to off-season conditioning,” Lembo said. “Some of it goes back to hard work over the summer with his receivers. It's being able to get on the same page with his receivers without even speaking.”
The best quarterback in the MAC a year ago now dresses each Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Indianapolis Colts (Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish), so similar success by Wenning – particularly against BCS programs – begs the question: Could Wenning play at the high-major level of college football?
“I believe that he could because he is willing to put the time in, the work in, and it's that important to him,” Lembo said. “He's a true student of the game, He's a guy who is passionate about the game, and he's also got a lot of physical tools as well. The most exciting thing about Keith is that he is only 1/3 of the way through his junior year and he loves Ball State.”