The Daily Nole

Column: Francois, Walker Shine, but Spirit and Resiliency Biggest Takeaways for FSU

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In his debut, Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois wasn’t as good as anticipated; he was better, accounting for nearly 500 yards of offense. On a night where senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker was a half-sack shy of tying an FSU single-game record, running back Dalvin Cook tallied nearly 200 yards from scrimmage and the defense forced the SEC’s best quarterback into four turnovers, the biggest takeaway for the Seminoles wasn’t to be found in the box score.

Often times for teams like Florida State with championship aspirations, it takes until the midway point of the season to know whether or not that team has what it takes mentally and emotionally to play for college football’s ultimate prize. In Week 1, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher already knows the answer regarding his team.

In front of a capacity crowd at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Monday night, the Seminoles erased a 22-point first half deficit to down No. 11 Ole Miss, 45-34. That’s the largest margin ever overcome in an FSU victory.

For the first 27 minutes, the Rebels thoroughly embarrassed No. 4 Florida State, building a 28-6 lead. Four different Ole Miss players had scored touchdowns. Rebel receivers were running free. A veteran FSU offensive line was getting blown up and the ground game that seemed to be an absolute necessity to aid a freshman quarterback was a virtual non-factor.

Trailing by 22 points against a talented team that could seemingly do no wrong, it would have been easy for the Seminoles to roll over, die and turn their focuses to next week and then the ACC. We could have sat back and said things about how the better team won, how Fisher didn’t have his team prepared or how FSU couldn’t handle the tempo.

But as Francois stood in late in the first half, took a punishing hit and delivered a strike to Travis Rudolph for his first career touchdown pass, the night and perhaps the outlook on the remainder of the season changed for Florida State.

By the 4:12 mark in the third quarter, the Seminoles had scored 30 unanswered points and held an 8-point lead. A defense that couldn’t seem to cover in the first half was blanketing Ole Miss’ deep corps of receivers. Two early second half turnovers — one on an interception by Marcus Lewis and one on a fumble forced by Walker — set up two FSU touchdown drives totaling just 43 yards.

The offensive line for the Seminoles was never fully able to assert its will, but the difference between the first and second halves were night and day as it continued to fight.

As for Francois, the redshirt freshman playing in his first career game served as the calm during what was an early Ole Miss storm. Despite having little protection and no ground game in the first half, Francois stood in and made throw after throw, taking shot after shot while keeping FSU within relative striking distance. As Francois continued to get up and make plays, the players around him got better.

Jesus Wilson, a sometimes maligned small receiver, finished with 125 yards. Little-used Freddie Stevenson and Ryan Izzo scored touchdowns. Rudolph converted a key third down. Derrick Kelly who struggled mightily in his first start as a guard, pulled with success to open holes in a running game that had previously been non-existent. Aiding in the ground game was Francois who broke off a pair of 31-yard runs to set up second half touchdowns.

For the Florida State defense, it was ultimately the unit’s leader who wouldn’t let the team quit. As good as Francois was, DeMarcus Walker may have been the best player for the Seminoles in the second half, putting constant pressure on Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.

Perhaps more importantly is that members of a young, talented secondary also grew up on Monday night. After getting beat early in the game, sophomores Lewis and Tarvarus McFadden were much better in the second half with both recording their first career interceptions. McFadden’s pick with under three minutes to play sealed the game.

Not to be lost in the comeback was Ricky Aguayo. Aguayo, a freshman kicker and the younger brother of former Lou Groza Award winner Robert Aguayo, wasted no time arriving on the scene. The younger Aguayo hit a school-record six field goals, making big kick after big kick as the Seminoles improved to 7-0 in openers under Fisher.

As important as the play of Francois was Monday night, Florida State grew substantially as a team. Young players made big plays while veterans led by example. Against a team ranked in the top 15 that won 10 games, a New Year’s Six bowl and beat the eventual national champion last season, the Seminoles were hit in the mouth early and kept fighting.

As any head coach will tell you, as thrilling as Monday’s win was, it’s just one game. Only time will tell whether FSU has the talent, depth or overall scheme to reach the College Football Playoff or go on to compete for a fourth national championship. As far as mental toughness, want-to, resiliency and character go, there’s no doubt the Seminoles have got it.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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