ORLANDO (AP) — Deondre Francois was a little concerned after his first couple of drives Monday night.
Things weren’t going exactly as Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback had hoped. Some critical passes floated high, some fell short, and the fourth-ranked Seminoles trailed No. 11 Mississippi by 22 points before the end of the first quarter.
Then it all came together in the second quarter. Francois stood in the pocket and delivered a 16-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rudolph, the first of 33 consecutive points for the Seminoles in a 45-34 season-opening win over Ole Miss — the largest comeback victory in school history.
“Things weren’t going right, but I couldn’t panic because my team needed me behind the wheel,” said Francois, just the fourth freshman to start the season as the Seminoles’ quarterback.
“So I just kept chopping. We were down 28-6, but I couldn’t let them see me down, I had to portray the image that we were not about to lose this game.”
Francois made plays with both his arm and legs while playing in front of his home crowd in Orlando. He completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 59 yards.
He led the Seminoles on four touchdown drives and positioned freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo to convert a school-record six field goals while FSU scored on nine consecutive possessions between the second and fourth quarters.
“He’s a kid who loves his team,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of Francois. “His teammates believe in him, and he’s a fighter, and he’s a competitor, which I’m very proud of.”
Francois outplayed his much more experienced counterpart, Ole Miss senior Chad Kelly, who threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns but also had three interceptions and a fumble.
Francois didn’t commit a turnover and played with poise that earned him his teammates’ confidence.
“He just wants to make everything perfect, he wants to perfect his craft,” said FSU running back Dalvin Cook. “The confidence he has coming into the huddle, you have no choice but to go out and execute for him because he is going to lay it on the line for you.”
Ole Miss: The Rebels’ up-tempo offense is potent, but big mistakes by Kelly under pressure took away any momentum. Kelly had three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter but his turnovers (four) brought the offense to a standstill.
Florida State: Francois looks like the real deal. His arm is impressive and his willingness to stay in the pocket was bold for a first-time starter. Cook found little running room early, but he contributed big as a receiver with a career-high seven catches for 101 yards. He also rushed for 91 yards on 23 carries.
Ole Miss: The Rebels gave 13 points off turnovers, fueled by Kelly’s four giveaways.
Florida State: The Seminoles won the time of possession battle 42:39 to 17:21. … FSU will have to clean up some sloppiness after committing 15 penalties for 127 yards. … The Seminoles converted 9 of 18 third downs. … Among the kickers that Aguayo passed with his team-record six field goals? His brother Roberto, a second-round pick by Tampa Bay this year.
Ole Miss cornerback Ken Webster suffered a knee injury on the Rebels’ fourth defensive play when he went up to defend a pass to receiver Kermit Whitfield. Webster came down awkwardly and had to be carted off the field. His injury hurt the secondary because it didn’t have a defensive back to leave out on an island in coverage.
Ole Miss: The Rebels should drop some in the polls, but they may not fall far after losing in what was essentially Florida State’s backyard. For a while, Ole Miss looked destined for a jump into the top 10, but things unraveled in the second half.
Florida State: The Seminoles nearly became the third team in the top five to tumble, but instead they rallied for a huge neutral-site win. With No. 3 Oklahoma losing, FSU should move up to at least No. 3 in the next AP Top 25 poll.
“Jimbo (Fisher) and I were talking before the game, there was going to be a good football team that walked out of here tonight not feeling well, and it’s us,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We did not deserve to win the game the way we played the second half.”
Ole Miss: The Rebels return home to host Wofford of the FCS on Saturday. Terriers (1-0) are coming off a 21-7 win over Tennessee Tech.
Florida State: The Seminoles will host Charleston Southern of the FCS on Saturday. The Buccaneers (1-1) are coming off a 57-7 win over Kentucky State.
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