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.