Things looked quiet, for a while, for Deondre Francois.
Florida State's redshirt freshman quarterback made his first career start on Monday, and Ole Miss' defensive front didn't waste any time harassing him. Florida State's offensive line looked frequently overwhelmed, and Rebel pass-rushers had a field day. They sacked Francois five times, but even when they didn't, they got their licks on him and hurried him. Not much went right around the rookie, and when it looked like it was about to, it still broke bad (example: Dalvin Cook dribbling a touchdown out of bounds).
With a half-minute left in the first half and the Seminoles losing 28-6, Francois' offensive line crumbled around him, and defensive end Marquis Haynes got in one of the week's hardest hits. Francois stood in and fired accurately to receiver Travis Rudolph anyway.
Touchdown, 'Noles, to make it a 28-13 ballgame.
Francois and his friends made that into a turning point. Florida State scored the next 26 points, making it a string of 33 unanswered. They led by eight when the fourth quarter started, and they never gave it up, holding off an occasionally feisty comeback bid from the Rebels. The final score was 45-34. It didn't even feel that close.
The Francois that appeared during the first 28 or so minutes looked timid, even confused. He was wild on several of his throws, and he seemed to be on something other than the same page as head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Not that Francois wasn't piling up numbers. He was 16-of-27 passing for 218 yards and that Rudolph touchdown by halftime. He hadn't thrown any interceptions, and his talent was exceptionally clear. But he didn't look quite right.
That changed tremendously in the second half.
Francois guided the Seminoles to points on their first five drives after the break, moving methodically most of the time. He ran a seven-play, 52-yard field goal drive, an eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive and a 14-play, 51-yard touchdown drive.
It wasn't coincidental that Ole Miss totaled negative-7 yards in the third quarter; Chad Kelly and company only held the ball or 2:44 in total. FSU took complete control, and Francois showed he could do plenty more than sling it.
Who was the last Jimbo Fisher QB with wheels like that? Christian Ponder, maybe?
Francois' final line: 33-of-52 passing for 419 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He ran nine times for 59 yards, accounting in total for 478 of the 'Noles 580 yards of offense.
Francois will inevitably draw Jameis Winston comparisons. So, here's one.
Fisher's last blue-chip redshirt freshman starter worked out decently. Because sports are always reduced to comparisons, he'll play somewhat in Winston's shadow for as long as he's in Tallahassee. That Winston hung out on FSU's sideline during Francois' debut and became an internet meme again is immaterial.
Winston's debut at Pitt in 2013 was masterful. He connected on 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards, four scores, and no interceptions. He ran for 25 yards on eight runs and scored again. He was wowing, and he never looked as off-kilter as Francois did at a few points in the first half Monday.
Here's part of what Bill Connelly wrote about Winston's big night, back then:
... All we know at this point is that his debut was trickier than typical first tests (he faced a fired-up new conference rival, and non-cupcake, on the road), he was destined to be graded on an unfairly high curve, and he got an A+++. And Florida State's ceiling for 2013 got a little higher in the process.
Debuting on Labor Day, just like Francois, Winston was facing Pitt in the Panthers' first ACC game ever. He was playing on the road, but not in one of the sport's most raucous stadiums.
What Francois did on Monday -- in posting 97 more total yards than Winston did and leading FSU's charge back from the abyss against an SEC contender with a defense that finished No. 21 in Defensive S&P+ last year -- was just as good. It wasn't as stunning in the moment, but it was every bit as comprehensive and even more prolific.
Don't minimize Winston's first start, of course. That Pitt unit finished a strong 28th in S&P+, and the game was such a rout that Florida State could afford to take its foot slightly off the gas. He was terrific.
So was Francois, though. Ole Miss' talented defense often tortured an already injury-thinned Florida State offensive line. Francois' best weapon literally dribbled the ball out of bounds three yards from scoring a touchdown and earned a pedestrian 4 yards per carry. Francois had lots working against him, and it turned out not to matter.
The only thing more obvious than his ability is his resiliency.