During the first 29 minutes of the Camping World Kickoff vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, fourth-ranked Florida State looked lost.
It looked broken.
It looked like a team that took two steps back even while moving forward, including on a Dalvin Cook reception that should have been a touchdown had Cook remembered to hold on to the ball.
Then, thanks to redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, things changed, and Florida State made a statement to the college football world: “We’re back.”
The Noles embarked on a 33-0 run that spanned from late in the second quarter until early in the fourth to take control over the Rebels en route to a 45-34 win.
In the process, Francois capped off a week of impressive quarterback debuts that included Texas true freshman Shane Buechele’s win over Notre Dame, Alabama true freshman Jalen Hurts’ romp over USC and Georgia true freshman Jacob Eason’s performance in a win over North Carolina.
Playing in his hometown of Orlando, Francois topped them all with 419 passing yards on 33-of-52 passing, tossed two touchdowns, didn’t throw a pick or lose a fumble and added 59 rushing yards. His 419-yard debut topped that of former Seminole Jameis Winston, who threw for 356 against Pitt on Labor Day night 2013 against Pitt in his first game as a redshirt freshman.
“He’s a tough guy, he’s a competitor, he’s a grinder,” head coach Jimbo Fisher said of Francois on ESPN after the game. “It takes a lot of maturity to do that in his first game, especially with the environment that he’s in. Our team believes in him.”
What’s even more impressive for Francois is that it wasn’t a cake walk—as the stats might suggest.
Ole Miss had him on the ropes, got continuous pressure in his face and didn’t let him comfortable until the final drive of the first half, when he capped off a nine-play series with a 16-yard strike to Travis Rudolph with 0:28 to go to trim Ole Miss’ lead to 28-13.
What you saw in Orlando during that drive, and the subsequent scoring run, was a quarterback come of age and make a statement that he has the keys to head coach Fisher’s offensive Ferrari, and he’s not giving them back any time soon.
“Started slow,” Francois said on ESPN’s broadcast. “Gotta get the feel and speed of the game. I’ve gotta give credit to Ole Miss. That’s a great SEC football team with some hard hitters and some fast defensive backs. In the first quarter, I just had to get hit a couple of times and throw a couple of incompletions just to get right.”
Francois getting more comfortable should terrify the rest of the college football world.
Why? He did it all when Cook was not as his best, though he still rushed for 91 yards, caught seven passes for 101 yards and iced the game away when his team needed him most.
The combination of a veteran, reliable running back and an upstart freshman quarterback who proved in Game 1 that he has what it takes to be a star on one of the game’s biggest Week 1 stages is a recipe for success.
Because they’re only going to get better.
Couple that with a ferocious defense that forced three Chad Kelly interceptions, one lost fumble, paid mortgage (DeMarcus Walker, in particular) in the backfield and is as athletic as any Florida State defense Fisher has had in Tallahassee, and you have a national championship front-runner.
Francois was the missing piece.
He was the piece that you think is in the puzzle box, but can’t quite get to come out just yet.
That piece came out firing late in the second quarter, never looked back, and re-established Florida State as one of the best teams in the sport.
Warning: The Seminoles are going to get better as he becomes more comfortable.
You saw the sequel to the Jameis Winston experience Monday night in Orlando. Unlike most sequels, this won’t be a letdown.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report-ACC Football