"It's a very business-like performance by our guys," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. "We had the right focus all week, we prepared properly and we came out and had a really solid plan."
Several Wildcats, including Fitzgerald, didn't shy away from talking about the desire to become bowl eligible.
"There's a lot of ways to motivate your guys, and yeah, you better believe it's out there," Fitzgerald said. "I was here back in the day when we didn't do that. We have an expectation here in the way that we should play, we have an expectation with the way we should prepare, and we have an expectation for the postseason. We didn't get it done in the month of October, but we're fighting, scratching, and clawing to make this a November to remember. We've got a lot of work to do this week; we're playing a very talented team this Saturday. It's going to be great to be back here at home."
Wide receiver Demetrius Fields, who had two catches for 65 yards, admitted the Wildcats are driven by the goal to become bowl eligible.
"I mean, that's the main goal now," he said. "We're taking it one game at a time, but that's definitely where we want to be in the future and this game allowed us to get closer to that goal. We're taking it day-by-day because we have stepping stones to get to that point."
Starting quarterback Dan Persa's status was questionable after he sat out the second half of last week's upset win at Nebraska with a left shoulder injury. Persa showed no signs of an injury, completing 25-of-32 passes for a career-high 372 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was Jeremy Ebert. The senior wide receiver led the Wildcats with seven catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. One week after an 81-yard touchdown catch at Nebraska, Ebert snared a 90-yard touchdown pass from Persa.
"We weren't sure quite how they were going to defend us, so we had to do a little adjusting there in the first couple sets offensively," Fitzgerald said. "Once we saw they were going to load the box we would take advantage by throwing the football. What a day for Jeremy Ebert."
Ebert credited Persa for making the long touchdown play happen.
"It just kind of happened," he said. "Dan made a great throw, and I was able to come down with it. I saw it, but the wind was throwing it over my other shoulder. I kind of ended up being a ballerina out there."
--The Wildcats lost five games in a row, but have rebounded to win their last three games to improve to 5-5 on the season, one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the fifth straight season.
--For the first time this season, Northwestern didn't allow any points for the first 45 minutes of the game. Northwestern held Rice to a season-low six points. The six points are the fewest allowed by an NU defense since Illinois State managed three points against the Northwestern in 2010.
--During Northwestern's three-game winning streak, the Wildcats are averaging 38.3 points per game and 539 offensive yards per game.
--QB Dan Persa's first-quarter 90-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeremy Ebert is the second longest pass play in Northwestern history. The longest is Mitch Anderson to Jim Lash for a 94-yard touchdown against Michigan State in 1972. Besides the career-long 90-yard scoring pass to Ebert, Persa set other personal career marks with 372 passing yards and four touchdown passes, tying his previous best set against Illinois on Oct. 1, 2011.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Demetrius Fields -- He caught a career-long 50-yard reception, and added a 15-yard touchdown for his first TD catch of the season. Wide receiver Mike Jensen became the 15 Wildcat to catch a pass this season.
LOOKING GOOD: Nobody has been able to stop Northwestern's offense in recent weeks. The Wildcats are averaging 38.3 points and 539 yards per game during their three-game winning streak. Quarterback Dan Persa threw for a career-tying four touchdowns and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert had 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Persa threw for a career-high 372 yards. The Northwestern defense is starting to pick up the pieces after some dreadful performances early last month. The Wildcats allowed Rice to accumulate 119 yards rushing and 135 yards passing. "I thought our defense is really starting to come into their own," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Starting to gain confidence. Playing much better. (The defense) is having 11 heartbeats play as one."
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Wildcats have remained consistent in one area all year: not turning the ball over. The Wildcats had trouble holding onto the ball against Rice, with quarterback Dan Persa tossing two interceptions and the Wildcats losing a fumble.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's awesome. 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." -- Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert on catching an 81-yard touchdown pass at Nebraska and a 90-yard TD against Rice in consecutive weeks.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Jeremy Ebert etched his name in the school's record books. Ebert caught seven passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard touchdown. Ebert, who had an 81-yard touchdown the previous game at Nebraska, had the third-best receiving yardage mark in a game in school history. His 90-yard score was the second-longest in school history from the line of scrimmage. "I haven't been able to do something like that since high school," Ebert said. "It's a pretty surreal feeling to be out there and just see green grass in front of you. At Nebraska, I was looking at the big screen while I was running. But in this game, I didn't really have that. I was hoping I was fast enough."
--QB Dan Persa tied a career-high with four touchdown passes against Rice. The senior threw a career-long 90-yard touchdown to Jeremy Ebert. Persa finished a stellar game by completing 25-of-32 passes for a career-high 372 yards to move his career total to 5,250 total yards.
--WR Kain Colter attempted just one pass, but completed a 14-yarder. For the sixth time this season, Colter led Northwestern in rushing (39 yards). The freshman caught five passes for 27 yard and one touchdown.
--S Ibraheim Campbell paced the Wildcats with nine tackles, including a career best eight assists.
--QB Dan Persa showed no problems with his shoulder that was injured in last week's win at Nebraska. Persa started against Rice and threw four touchdown passes and a career-high 372 yards.
--The Wildcats are one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the fifth straight season.
--Northwestern has won three straight games after losing five in a row.