NASHVILLE, Tenn.(AP) -- Dan Persa threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers, and Northwestern beat Vanderbilt 23-15 Saturday night in the regular season game between the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference.
This was Persa's first start with Mike Kafka now gone, and the junior was nearly perfect as he helped ruin the debut of Vanderbilt's new head coach Robbie Caldwell in the season opener for both teams.
Persa was 19 of 21 passing and he also led the Wildcats with 82 yards rushing.
Vanderbilt had plenty of chances to make Caldwell the first Commodores' coach to win his debut since Woody Widenhofer in 1997.
Larry Smith threw for 240 yards and a touchdown with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy each running for touchdowns. But the Commodores missed an extra point, a 48-yard field goal and were stopped on two 2-point conversions - the last with 2:25 left on a bad snap.