EVANSTON, Ill. -- Dan Persa threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and Northwestern won its fourth straight, beating Minnesota 28-13 on Saturday.
Venric Mark came through with two big kickoff returns as the Wildcats (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to build a 21-7 lead. That set the tone as Northwestern became eligible for its fourth straight bowl appearance.
If it seems like a modest accomplishment, consider where this team was when this streak began.
The Wildcats lost five in a row after winning their first two and appeared to be going nowhere, but they turned it around in a big way with lopsided wins over Indiana and Rice sandwiched around a tight stunner at Nebraska.
Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) had two deep drives stall, settling for a field goal after getting to the Wildcats' 10 in the second quarter and coming away with nothing late in the third when it was threatening to make it a four-point game.
Instead, Ibraheim Campbell tipped a 9-yard pass intended for Brandon Green in the end zone and Brian Peters made the interception. That led to an 80-yard Northwestern drive, with Jacob Schmidt running it in from the 1 on a pitch to make it 28-10 early in the fourth and seal the victory.
The Wildcats will try to strengthen their standing against Michigan State next week, but they can breathe a little easier knowing they have enough wins to make a bowl.
Coming off a career performance against Rice, Persa was sharp again after throwing for a personal-best 372 yards and matching a high with four TD passes. He was 22 of 31 with an interception.
Jeremy Ebert had a relatively quiet day with 62 yards receiving after setting career highs the previous two weeks with 147 yards against Nebraska and 208 against Rice.
Mark's 44-yard return on the opening kickoff and 42-yarder on Northwestern's next possession both led to touchdowns, giving the Wildcats an early lead that ultimately stood.
Gray ran for 147 yards and a touchdown and threw for 124, but completed just 9 of 21 passes and got picked off once. Bennett finished with a season-high 127 yards rushing, 78 in the first half.
Nike Men's Minnesota Golden Gophers Maroon/Gold Team Issue Performance PoloShop
SEC Network's Marcus Spears and Kevin Wiedl break down the best fit, top value and Saturday Sleeper after Day 2 of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Former Auburn OT Shon Coleman, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, speaks at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital about being drafted by the Browns.
Former Florida DE Jonathan Bullard discusses reaching his dream of being drafted as he was selected in Round 3 by the Chicago Bears.
SEC Network's Marcus Spears and Kevin Weidl react to the Tide players taken on Day 2 of the NFL Draft and predict what's in store for Henry and Ragland.
Edward Aschoff and Paul Finebaum break down what's going on at Ole Miss following Laremy Tunsil's admission that he took money from an Ole Miss official.
SEC Network's Paul Finebaum reacts to the turn of events for former Ole Miss OL Laremy Tunsil and Ole Miss on Thursday night of the NFL Draft.