"It was a very business-like performance from our guys," Fitzgerald said to the media after the win.
The senior-laden Wildcats spent no time getting caught up in the headlines from the prior week. No hangover to worry about. Instead, they were ready for the Owls.
"We had great focus all week, prepared properly, and came out with a solid plan."
The Wildcats were business-like, indeed.
Northwestern posted 533 yards of offense, led by Dan Persa's four touchdown passes. In addition, the Wildcats defense held Rice to just 254 yards, while forcing eight Kyle Martens punts and three turnovers.
There was plenty of credit to go around after the game. Persa credited the Northwestern defense for the team's recent success.
"I think obviously the difference in our team is in the defense—hands down," Persa said. "They've really stepped it up the past couple of weeks and they're the reason why we're winning now."
Junior linebacker David Nwabuisi disagreed, giving credit, instead, to the Wildcats' offense, which has averaged 38.3 points per game during the current winning streak.
"He's being modest," Nwabuisi said of Persa's comments. "The offense is definitely doing their job out there. It's definitely a team effort."
While there were plenty of positives for Northwestern to take, Dan Persa and Jeremy Ebert stole the show—each posting career-best numbers. Persa finished with a career-high 372 passing yards, completing seven passes to fellow senior and roommate Jeremy Ebert, who had 208 yards receiving—topping his previous mark set last week.
The duo gave the Wildcats the lead, early in the first quarter, as Persa found Ebert for a 90-yard touchdown pass. That play is the second-longest play from scrimmage in the program's history.
For Ebert, it was déjà vu, coming one week after his game-changing 81-yard touchdown catch against Nebraska. The only difference this week was the view. Ebert admitted he was looking up at the Memorial Stadium jumbotron. This week, he didn't have a big screen to watch.
"It's awesome, Ebert said. " I haven't been able to do that since high school. It's a pretty surreal feeling to just be running with only green grass in front of you."
In the second quarter, Ebert found the endzone again. This time, it was a 17-yard catch, which gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead. That touchdown was the 10th of Ebert's career, and ranks him second on Northwestern's all-time list, just behind D'Wayne Bates.
Ebert's recent play has keyed success for the offense. Persa credits his on-field connection with Ebert to their off-the-field chemistry.
"I think the comfort we have attests to all the preparation we've put in over the past couple years," Persa said. "We know what each other is thinking; we watch a lot of film, and go through a lot of stuff in the summer together."
Late in the first half, Northwestern's defense came through again, which setup another score. Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi was intercepted by Tyler Scott, giving the Wildcats nice field possession. NU marched into the red zone in no time.
Looking to increase the lead, Persa, connected with junior receiver Demetrius Fields, who juked out the defense and found the endzone.
Northwestern never lost control in the second half. Persa connected with Kain Colter for a three-yard strike, which extended the lead to a 28-0 margin. Additionally, the Wildcats held Rice to just 99 total yards in the second half.
The Wildcats had their eyes set on their first shutout over an FBS opponent in 14 years, but the Owls scored their lone touchdown on a reverse play, as Tyler Smith scored from nine yards out.
The game ended as Evan Watkins—the Wildcats' fourth quarterback to receive a snap—took a knee.
The win was significant for a few reasons. The victory set a Northwestern record for most wins (35) by a senior class. It also puts the Wildcats one win shy of reaching bowl eligibility. The ladder carries more importance.
"It's special," said Persa. "We're really proud of it but at the same time, we realize we've got a pretty good opportunity to finish the season the right way and we're more focused on that then being the all-time leaders in wins."